It is now over six months since COVID-19 started to have a significant impact in Australia. Much has happened during that time.
Impact on workers
Not surprisingly many of these changes have had a major and negative impact on the horticultural workforce – particularly for unskilled workers to pick and pack fruit and vegetables.
WHM and SWP
It is estimated that around 80,000 backpackers are still in Australia a significant reduction from the ‘usual’ 140,000. Reports of exhaustion and ‘just wanting to go home’ are becoming common. The government is clear that incoming visitors to Australia are unlikely to be accepted until at least 2021, so the pool of available backpackers is likely to be very small for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, due to the pandemic, a significant number of Australians have found themselves unemployed. Targeting these displaced workers for horticulture work may create a new pool of experienced, reliable Australians who may be available to fill horticulture positions. The difficulty for these workers is the requirement to travel to and live in regional centres, where horticulture is situated. It will require a collaborative approach by government, industry and employers to seek to make farm work as attractive as possible for this group.
Planning is critical
With early concerns now becoming stark reality, workforce planning takes on a critical role for any business reliant on external labour to pick, pack or manage crops.
You need to identify workforce needs and competencies well in advance of the time you need the workers.
- Encourage and incentivise any existing workers to stay, and return in subsequent seasons.
- Seek Australian residents from your local region.
- Meet with migrant communities if they exist in your region.
- Speak with your local university campus, TAFE college or senior high school where young and willing workers may be found.
- If you need to advertise, do this well in advance to give people time to plan their movements, particularly if they are coming from interstate or a city centre.
You must have a COVID-19 health management plan to ensure your workforce remains safe.
Having suitable on-farm accommodation always assists in encouraging workers to your vacancies, rather than other businesses.
Ask workers not to travel to any regional area until they have a confirmed job and accommodation.
Harvest Trail can help
If you are looking for harvest workers – anywhere in Australia, the Harvest Trail Information Service can help. Contact our call centre – 1800 062 332 or go to harvesttrail.gov.au to lodge your vacancies. This is a no-cost service where our contact centre consultants can help with finding suitable workers.
Harvest Trail Offices are also situated in:
2/77 King Street, CABOOLTURE QLD 4510
Tel: 0437 211 731
35 Electra Street, BUNDABERG QLD 4670
Tel: 07 4339 310