Equity of access concerns for on-farm quarantine

"Falling through the cracks" smaller farms fear missing out on seasonal workers

Horticulture
Small and medium sized growers are concerned they're being left behind in the fight for labour.

Small and medium sized growers are concerned they're being left behind in the fight for labour.

Aa

Small and middle sized growers facing uncertainty ahead of citrus harvest

Aa

With just a month before harvest, Mundubbera citrus grower Susan Jenkin has only 'provisionally secured' 20 of her needed 60 workforce.

Her business, Ironbark Citrus, is one of many small and medium sized citrus operations scrambling to find a labour ahead of this year's citrus harvest.

Susan Jenkin, Ironbark Citrus, Mundubbera

Susan Jenkin, Ironbark Citrus, Mundubbera

This week, the Palaszczuk government announced an extension to its seasonal worker program, bringing hundreds of more workers from Pacific Island nations to Queensland.

But bringing in seasonal workers from Pacific Island nations favours those who have the means to quarantine them on their property with operations like Ironbank Citrus left at the back of the line.

Currently only ten seasonal workers from Pacific Islands are accepted into hotel quarantine each week, with those spaces shared between all growers in Queensland.

Ms Jenkin said she was encouraged by the governments initiative but is still unsure of how her operation will manage come harvest.

"We don't have on farm facilities so we've been left out of that option to quarantine on farm," she said.

"We've always used the local caravan park and houses in town, but none of them are suitable for quarantine."

"Unless we could be certain this is going to be the case for a few years, we can't just build a facility to quarantine people in."

"Everyone is working hard to find a solution, we've got to be patient but it's hard to be patient when we've got a harvest in six weeks."

Growcom's Richard Shannon welcomed the State Government's initiative in the sector, however flagged concerns about the "equity of access".

"Smaller and medium sized growers can't tap into Pacific Labour schemes the same way larger farms can,"

"This is a good solid step in the right direction, the Government is providing the policy landscape and environment to provide larger quarantine facilities, that could possibly provide multiple cohorts of workers to end up on many different farms."

"It's very difficult for proponents of facilities to have the confidence in demand and ultimately see commercial return on their investments."

Mr Shannon said there is also a concern that private enterprise is taking a disproportionate amount of risk.

"There is a clear public benefit to having enough labor to pick our fruit and vegetables," he said.

"There is a risk now that we won't be able to bring in the amount of people that we need, with smaller and larger growers unable to work together and make things more commercially viable."

Mr Shannon flagged that there is a lot of confusion for smaller operations to manage the recruitment process from Pacific Island nations.

"If it's not something you're use to doing, it's quite an overwhelming task," he said.

"There's a lot more to do than recruiting a backpacker or an Australian worker, which is what a lot of these operations are use to."

"It's not just a matter of needing to find a way to quarantine your workers, but also there is additional costs like maintaining accomodation to a level that is mandated by the Federal Government."

Ms Jenkins echoed the sentiment.

"Since COVID we've had to become experts on everything, we're not just citrus growers anymore. We now know about chartering planes, organising quarantine and visa applications."

The state government is currently accessing proposals for industry-led regional quarantine facilities that could host larger numbers of seasonal workers to help secure the workforce even further.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by