Solutions and support for growers to keep farming through the Coronavirus pandemic

GROWCOM WORKPLACE ESSENTAILS ALERTS
GROWCOM ADVOCACY ALERTS

COVID-19 novel coronavirus is a new strain of coronavirus affecting humans. As a new disease, there is presently no immunity to COVID-19 in the community. As such, infection spreads very quickly. Those most at risk include people who have compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses, the elderly, and the very young.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms reported in identified cases of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

According to the Department of Health, the virus is spread from ‘person-to-person’ contact through:

  • Close contact with an infectious person (including in the 24 hours before they start showing symptoms).
  • Contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
  • Touching objects or surfaces that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person and then touching your mouth or face.

For more information, please refer to the Queensland Government website.

The Queensland Government has introduced measures to help agribusiness and commercial fisheries access seasonal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. This ensures seasonal work can continue so Queensland’s food supplies are secure while meeting coronavirus (COVID-19) public health directions.

Workplace health and safety plan

All agribusinesses have a responsibility under workplace health and safety legislation to provide a safe workplace for their employees, and this extends to minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission among workers and the community.

You can use the Work health and safety plan template published on the Worksafe Queensland website if you don’t already have a plan in place.

Guideline for reducing workforce impacts related to COVID-19

Together with the agricultural industries and Queensland Health, Safe Food Production Queensland (Safe Food) has developed a guideline for agricultural, horticultural, and meat and livestock processing businesses to help them understand the risks of COVID-19 to their workforce, and describe the measures that can be implemented when any of these risks are realised.

The guideline:

  • Provides clear definitions of the different categories for workers exposed to COVID-19
  • Provides guidance on how to estimate the risk from each of those workers
  • Outlines mitigating actions that can be implemented in the event of workers being exposed to COVID-19 and the proactive measures that should be taken to protect the workforce and manage the risk into the future, which can be used to inform risk assessment decisions.

This Guideline should be used in conjunction with the Checklist for Reducing Workforce Impact from COVID-19. The Checklist helps production facilities, farms and packing sheds assess their risk management measures for COVID-19.

Download the guide and checklist here.

Employers in the agribusiness and fisheries industry may hire seasonal workers needing to travel into and within Queensland to undertake work. A seasonal worker is a person who travels to, or within, Queensland for work as it becomes available, requiring them to relocate and stay in temporary accommodation. A seasonal workers can be:

  • A person coming from overseas to travel and work temporarily in Australia (for example, a backpacker, or visa holder)
  • An Australian resident seeking seasonal work either locally or across the country.

workplace health management plan is mandatory in Queensland for all agribusinesses, commercial fishing business or agriculture labour hire companies that employ seasonal workers (including non-permanent residents, temporary visa holders and backpackers).

Download a template workplace health management plan from the Queensland Health website.

A workplace health management plan must:

  • describe the health screening steps you will implement for employees—you are required to undertake pre-employment screening and daily checks of your employees to determine the presence/absence of COVID-19 symptoms
  • describe the steps that you will implement to:
    • manage and prevent the transmission of COVID-19 among your employees and the community
    • maintain health standards
    • respond appropriately should an employee become unwell
  • be submitted to Queensland Health at plans@health.qld.gov.au

If you have a health management plan in place that covers all COVID-19 workplace health and safety management measures, you do not need to duplicate this information in a separate workplace health and safety plan.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has provided record-keeping templates for workplace health management plans to assist your agribusinesses or commercial fishing and processing business to maintain records of activities.

You must have a record of your employee’s work history and accommodation details for the 14 days before commencing work with you (including quarantine compliance if relevant).

Growcom has developed the following documentation to assist you:

If you are employing only Queensland residents who are working near their home and staying in their permanent residence, you are encouraged but are not required to have a workplace health management plan.

You should ensure your existing workplace health and safety plan is updated to include measures to protect employees and yourself from exposure to COVID-19.

While you are not required to submit a workplace health management plan, the measures and guidance materials contained in the workplace health management plan template can be used to update your workplace health and safety plan to address COVID-19. Your workplace must comply with public health directions and social distancing requirements.

You also have a responsibility for providing a safe workplace for your employees. The key things that employers must do to manage exposure to COVID-19 include:

  • maintaining good hygiene and cleanliness of the workplace
  • implementing physical distancing—keeping everyone at the workplace at least 1.5 metres physically apart
  • using protective personal equipment (PPE) appropriately, where necessary.

Find out more about managing and preventing transmission of COVID-19 at your worksite and in the community in the workplace health management plan template.

People who have been in a hotspot in the last 14 days or since the start date identified for the hotspot (whichever is shorter), will only be able to enter Queensland if they are a returning Queensland resident or required to enter for a limited range of essential reasons.

You can view the most current list of COVID-19 hotspots via the Queensland Government website.

Details of who is exempt from mandatory quarantine, even if they have been to a hotspot, can be found on the Border Restrictions page.

Specialist worker exemption

Agribusiness, commercial fishing and food manufacturing are considered essential activities in Queensland. You only need to apply for a specialist or essential worker exemption if you are a farmer or agribusiness worker who is coming from a COVID-19 hotspot.

A specialist or essential worker is a person who is endorsed as a specialist or essential worker by a relevant Queensland Government agency and provides services that:

  • are needed in Queensland
  • cannot be obtained in Queensland
  • must be provided without delay
  • the person must be physically present in Queensland to provide the service
  • the person’s employer or business has a quarantine management plan.

Endorsements are considered on a case-by-case basis against strict criteria.

The application process can be found on the Queensland Government website.

Transporters of freight and logistics

Exceptions continue to be in place for transporters of freight and logistics to ensure the delivery of essential food and supplies. You do not need to apply for an exemption from the Chief Health Officer to undertake transport of freight or logistics into, from or through Queensland unless you have travelled from a hotspot in the last 14 days.

The Queensland freight protocol came into effect on Wednesday 23 September 2020.

The protocol applies to heavy vehicle drivers, rail crew and drivers, passenger transport operations, non-heavy vehicle commercial freight operators, logistics and support workers, and any other persons essential to the delivery of freight in the course of a commercial freight movement, if they have been in a COVID-19 hotspot in the last 14 days prior to their arrival in Queensland.

The application process for a Freight and Logistics boarder pass can be found on the Queensland Government website.

Border Declaration Pass

To learn more or apply for a Queensland border declaration pass visit: www.qld.gov.au/border-pass

Anyone arriving in Queensland must quarantine if you have:

  • been overseas in the last 14 days (excluding travel on a quarantine free flight from a safe travel zone country)
  • been in a COVID-19 hotspot in the last 14 days or since the hotspot was declared (whichever is shorter), and the place is a COVID-19 hotspot at the time you enter Queensland

People already in Queensland will be directed to quarantine if they have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

If you are directed to quarantine, you will be issued with a quarantine direction under the Public Health Act 2005. This is a legal notice.

Find more information about quarantine requirements.

Workers already in Queensland are now able to conduct unlimited travel including overnight stays throughout the entire state, except Biosecurity areas or Restricted areas.

Workers are encouraged not to visit farms to request work and should instead register their availability at Harvest Trail. They can also phone the National Harvest Labour Information Service on 1800 062 332.

There are a number of options available to help you source the labour you require:

Safe Work Australia have collated a range of downloadable resources for use in the workplace.

The Queensland Government has also had a number of these resources translated.

Growcom has prepared a COVID-19 Security Entry Sign for growers to print out and place at the entry to their farms.

Employers have a work health and safety duty to minimise the risk of workers and other in the workplace being exposed to COVID-19 so far as reasonably practicable. If you reasonably suspect someone has the virus, or has been exposed you must act promptly and take reasonable steps to manage the risk.

To assist employers, Safe Work Australia has prepared a downloadable factsheet.

More detailed information regarding the above factsheet can be found on the Safe Work Australia website.

WorkCover Queensland has produced FAQs for workers, employers and medical providers to help answer any questions you may have relating to workers’ compensation and COVID-19.

Employers should refer to the Fair Work Ombudsman website to understand your rights and obligations as an employer.

On 8 April 2020, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) made determinations varying 99 awards, adding unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave flexibility.

The determinations inserted a temporary new Schedule X into these 99 awards, which provided 2 weeks of unpaid pandemic leave and the ability to take twice as much annual leave at half their normal pay if their employer agreed.

The Commission has now extended Schedule X in many awards. There are different end dates for the extended unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave provisions in each award.

Read more here.

The Federal Government announced temporary changes to visa arrangements.

The changes allow workers belonging to the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme to extend their stay for up to 12 months to work for any approved employer.

Working Holiday Makers (WHM) who work in agriculture or food processing will be exempt from the six month work limitation with the one employer and eligible for a further visa to keep working in these critical sectors if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.

Temporary Work visa holders including WHMs employed in critical sectors, such as horticulture, who have not completed the three or six months of specified work required to apply for a second or third Working Holiday Maker visa, and are unable to leave Australia, may be eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408 Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream) visa.

This visa will allow WHMs to remain lawfully in Australia, and continue working, if they wish to do so, until they can return to their home country.

Those already in Australia with the Seasonal Worker Program whose visas are expiring, will be able to extend their stay in Australia by applying for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408 Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream) visa.

Holders of other temporary work visas / TSS 482 visa /457 visa currently employed in critical sectors may also be eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408 Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream) visa.

Temporary Activity visa (subclass 408) for COVID-19 key points:

  • Valid for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The visa is free
  • The COVID-19 pandemic event visa is only available to people who are in Australia and have 28 days or less remaining on their current visa or where their last substantive visa has expired up to 28 days previously.

It allows visa holders to:

  • remain in Australia if they have no other visa options and are unable to depart Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
  • remain in Australia to assist in critical sectors including healthcare, disability and aged care, childcare and agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information can be found on the Federal Department of Home Affairs website.

Growcom is aware that there are mixed messages regarding the requirements for backpackers and seasonal workers to self-quarantine. At this stage, it is only the current state border provisions that apply. This may change and we will let you know as soon as they do.

Once we have more clarification from the government about self-isolation and the questions raised about accommodation, worker safety and the obligations of the employer, we will send out a Workplace Essentials Alert.

On 3 July, the Australian Government announced an additional $241.9 million to continue the International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM), helping keep international freight routes and flights operating until the end of the year.

The new funding will keep high-value, time sensitive and perishable exports and vital imports, such as medical supplies and other essential items, flowing as we continue the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It will also re-establish domestic connections for producers and growers in regional and rural areas that rely on air freight to get their products to customers

For more information click here.

Both the Federal and Queensland Governments have announced multi-billion-dollar economic packages to support households and businesses address the significant economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

View the Australian Government’s full Economic Response: www.treasury.gov.au/coronavirus

View the Queensland Government’s full Immediate Industry Recovery Package: www.qld.gov.au/about/industry-recovery