Growcom has today welcomed an announcement over the weekend by the Queensland Government to extend until 4 March 2021 the trial restart of both the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) and Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP).

“This is really positive news for Queensland growers, and all those with an interest along the fresh produce supply chain. We greatly appreciate the willingness of the Queensland Government to test and try new ideas to address our labour shortages,” said Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard. 

“Analysis by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries suggests we have a current shortfall of approximately 7,000 seasonal workers here in Queensland.

“So the 700 or so Pacific Island workers who have or are soon arriving in Queensland under the initial trial period have been critical to ensuring fresh produce businesses are able to continue their harvests and normal operations.

“Clearly we need many more workers to take up harvest roles, and are hoping the extension until March will mean more Pacific Islanders are able to enter Queensland to take up job offers.”

Normally upwards of 12,000 Pacific Islanders are in Australia under either the PLS or SWP. It is understood around only 8,000 are in the country currently.

“Although ensuring we have enough labour to harvest our fresh fruits and vegetables is incredibly important, there are also many other really good reasons to create the conditions necessary for the free movement of people between Australia and Pacific nations in a COVID safe way,” said Mr Barnard. 

“Many of the workers in Australia at the moment have been here longer than expected, leaving families and loved ones behind. Getting them home is a priority for their own welfare.

“Pacific Island nations have also been incredibly hard hit economically by COVID-19, with tourism and hospitality industries often one of their biggest sources of national income.

“But these countries also rely heavily on remittances, or wages being sent home by their citizens living overseas, as a significant source of income.

“So not only have international travel restrictions caused tourism to collapse, they also continue to severely constrain the amount cash being sent home.

“Getting these Pacific Island seasonal worker programs up and running at scale is some of the best support we here in Australia can offer our Pacific Island neighbours, in terms of both their social and economic wellbeing.”