By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard
For the most part over the last two years, impacts of COVID-19 on the horticulture industry have been borne by growers.
While everyone panic bought toilet paper, thanks to Herculean efforts by growers often short staffed, the fresh produce section in supermarkets remained full to overflowing.
As we enter the New Year however, we are seeing for the first time real effects on consumers with bare shelves in the grocery aisle. This is likely the first time since the end of World War II that city dwellers have been confronted with such a sight.
While the Omicron variant has only further exacerbated worker shortages on farm, it’s also hit the transport, logistics and retail parts of the supply chain for the first time in a tangible way.
So Growcom has welcomed an announcement from the Queensland Government to allow some more flexibility for workers critical to our food security to get back to work sooner than might have otherwise been the case.
From Sunday 9 January a close contact who performs a critically essential role can leave quarantine to carry out that role provided they have no COVID-19 symptoms, and are fully vaccinated.
It will be up to employers to assess and identify critical essential roles, being those that requires a person with particular skills, must be performed in person at the workplace, and must continue to be performed to prevent serious social, economic or physical harm in the community, including the prevention of food shortages.
All identified roles must be compiled by the employer into a Critical Worker List, and then both kept as a record and submitted as soon as practicable and no later than three days after the close contact first attends the workplace to the nominated Queensland Government email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, refer to the Queensland Health Directive here: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/system-governance/legislation/cho-public-health-directions-under-expanded-public-health-act-powers/isolation-for-diagnosed-cases-and-management-of-close-contacts. And also the DAF Engagement Hub here: https://daf.engagementhub.com.au/agcontinuity.
We encourage the horticulture industry to engage with these allowances cautiously, with the health and wellbeing of workers being prioritized. Employers with direct questions are encouraged to contact DAF at email@example.com or call 13 25 23.
Our food supply chains are national. So while we have welcomed this change by the Queensland Government, and also in NSW, we are calling for these exemptions for critical workers to be made nationally consistent.
Growcom is also requesting governments, state and federal, consider making Rapid Antigen Tests immediately and freely available to critical workers in essential industries, so that we can best manage the risks associated with these changes.