Strawberry growers struggling to source workers

Seasonal worker program needs more support, strawberry grower says

Horticulture
Ray Daniel, Sunray Strawberries, Wamuran, is calling for more to be done to make the seasonal worker program easier for growers.

Ray Daniel, Sunray Strawberries, Wamuran, is calling for more to be done to make the seasonal worker program easier for growers.

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A Sunshine Coast strawberry grower has called on the government to cut red tape surrounding the seasonal worker program.

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A Sunshine Coast strawberry grower who has been waiting to find out if he can increase his number of seasonal Pacific workers since November has called on the government to cut red tape surrounding the seasonal worker program.

Ray Daniels of Sunray Strawberries, Wamuran, said he's trying to get his strawberry crop planted with just 20 workers on the job, a third of what he would usually require.

Mr Daniels signed up to the federal government's seasonal worker program last year, anticipating that it would be difficult to get enough workers this year.

"We've been in for a cap review that was due in November so we could get more workers," he said.

"We were hoping to get our recruitment cap reviewed up to 60 for this year.

"It's a fantastic initiative, I just think there need to be more staff running it to speed things up."

Now Mr Daniels fears even bumping his piece rate up to $60 per 1000 plants compared to $45 for 1000 won't be enough to draw more workers.

"We've got 500,000 in the ground and we grow 4.2 million plants," he said.

"I am feeling very nervous we may not get to plant all of our crop.

"We have to perform. We're very committed to the banks and I've never known doing less to give you more."

Mr Daniels said he had just 27 workers at the start of the season and the next day seven didn't come back, deciding not to keep working.

"The seasonal worker program is in a way like foreign aid for countries such as Vanuatu, it gives so many benefits to their economies and the workers can also take back the farming techniques they learn in Australia and apply them to their own farming," he said.

"They are hard workers and they are happy to work in Australia for months and go home for Christmas but then come back again for another stint of work. It's a better system than using backpackers too because you skill up the workers and they often come back and it's more efficient than constantly training new workers."

I am feeling very nervous we may not get to plant all of our crop. - Ray Daniels

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Skills and Employment said any increases to seasonal worker recruitment caps were determined on a case by case basis in consideration of a variety of factors.

"These factors include the approved employer's performance and compliance, financial capacity to meet upfront costs, and whether appropriate welfare and wellbeing support can be provided," he said.

As of March 16, there were 11 recruitment cap increase applications with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment for review.

"The department endeavours to assess all applications within 20 business days, however, this will depend on receiving all relevant information with the application," the spokesman said.

"If additional information is required, it may delay a decision."

So far nine approved employers with the seasonal worker program have used Queensland's on-farm quarantine scheme.

Mr Daniels said he believed there was also a lack of spaces available in hotel quarantine for agricultural workers.

"If the quarantine facility was set up in Toowoomba that would be a great way of getting more workers in," he said.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said the availability of places in hotel quarantine varies depending on demand for places for returning Queenslanders and other Australians.

"Queensland has led the nation in trialling on-farm quarantine, with more than 930 Pacific workers already in Queensland and hundreds more on the way," he said.

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