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

Growcom has been working at state and federal levels to progress solutions to the challenges posed by Coronavirus. We continue raising with government those issues our members are identifying, including labour and accommodation supply; chemical, fertiliser and packaging supply; labour mobility and logistics; and workplace protocols where staff are confirmed as infected.

Use this page to find information and resources about:

  • Labour supply
  • Labour mobility and logistics
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Workplace protocols where staff are confirmed as infected
  • Support measures governments have announced for businesses
GROWCOM LABOUR NEEDS SURVEY

Growcom is currently running a survey to determine labour demand over the next six months so we can be sure to have the right labour options in place for horticulture to continue feeding the nation.

This labour forecast data is critical, not just for managing the availability of labour, but also for managing the movement of workers and for getting regional health services prepared for increased demand and coronavirus caseloads as workers migrate around Queensland as produce comes into season.

We ask all growers to complete the survey now before you move onto the next job. The survey will close this Friday 3 April and will take less than 10 minutes to complete.

COMPLETE THE SURVEY HERE

AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT STIMULUS PACKAGE

On 30 March, the Government announced a $130 billion JobKeeper payment to help keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the coronavirus.

If your business has been significantly impacted by the Coronavirus you will be able to access this wages subsidy to continue paying your employees. Under the JobKeeper program, you will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum of six months. This assistance will help you keep staff and will help you restart when the crisis is over.

For more information click here.

Support for individuals and households

Over the next six months, the Government is temporarily expanding eligibility to income support payments and establishing a new, time-limited Coronavirus supplement to be paid at a rate of $550 per fortnight. This will be paid to both existing and new recipients of JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance Jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.

The Government is allowing individuals affected by the Coronavirus to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21. Individuals will not need to pay tax on amounts released and the money they withdraw will not affect Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs payments.

For more information click here.

Support for businesses

The Government is enhancing the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers measure it announced on 12 March 2020. The Government is providing up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, and not for-profits (NFPs) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000. These payments will help businesses and NFPs with their cash flow so they can keep operating, pay their rent, electricity and other bills and retain staff.

The Government is temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive. The package also includes temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent, and providing temporary flexibility in the Corporations Act 2001 to provide temporary and targeted relief from provisions of the Act to deal with unforeseen events that arise as a result of the Coronavirus health crisis.

The Government is increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanding access to include businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million) until 30 June 2020.

The Government is supporting small business to retain their apprentices and trainees. Eligible employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50 per cent of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage for 9 months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. Where a small business is not able to retain an apprentice, the subsidy will be available to a new employer that employs that apprentice. Employers will be reimbursed up to a maximum of $21,000 per eligible apprentice or trainee ($7,000 per quarter).

For more information click here.

The Government, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority have taken coordinated action to ensure the flow of credit in the Australian economy.

Under the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, the Government will provide a guarantee of 50 per cent to SME lenders to support new short-term unsecured loans to SMEs. The Scheme will guarantee up to $40 billion of new lending. This will provide businesses with funding to meet cash flow needs, by further enhancing lenders’ willingness and ability to provide credit. This will assist otherwise viable businesses across the economy who are facing significant challenges due to disrupted cash flow to meet existing obligations.

View the Australian Government’s full Economic Response to the Coronavirus.

QUEENSLAND GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC PACKAGE

Immediate payroll tax refunds will be provided for coronavirus affected businesses. Eligible businesses can also apply for deferral until the end of 2020 and a payroll tax holiday for 3 months.

Market Diversification and Resilience Grants (MDRG) for projects up to $50,000 are available to support project activities such as market evaluation studies, staff training, and new equipment. Under the MDRG program equipment purchase grants of up to $7500 are available to support new equipment purchases up to a maximum cost of $10,000. Both programs come with a co-investment component.

A new $500 million concessional loan facility, administered by QRIDA, that will comprise low interest loans of up to $250,000 for carry on finance with an initial 12-month interest free period for businesses to retain staff.

Sole traders, small and medium businesses will get a $500 rebate on their power bill. Any business consuming less than 100,000 kilowatt hours will receive the rebate, which will be automatically applied on business electricity bills.

Up to $500 million will be spent to assist workers who lose their job or income with retraining, job-matching and other help to transition into jobs in the industries that are vital to get Queensland through this crisis – such as health care, agriculture, food production, transport, cleaning and mining. Businesses that need access to skilled labour to meet demand will also receive assistance under this initiative.

SMEs can access financial counsellors to get a better understanding of their financial position and viability and gain assistance in developing and implementing plans to improve their financial situation. TAFE Queensland is also offering webinars to help businesses identify risks, build financial skills and plan to mitigate the impact of coronavirus.

The Mentoring for Growth program has mentors ready to provide tailored support to impacted small businesses, including financial mentoring and business planning.

View the Queensland Government’s full Immediate Industry Recovery Package.

In addition to the above economic package, the Queensland Government announced a $20 million extension to the Primary Industry Productivity Enhancement Scheme (PIPES) administered by QRIDA. Under PIPES primary producers can access Sustainability Loans of up to $1.3 million and First Start Loans of up to $2 million.

LABOUR SUPPLY

There are a number of options available to growers who are having difficulties sourcing labour:

For more information contact your local Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN) officer.

LABOUR MOBILITY AND LOGISTICS

To slow the spread of coronavirus, the Queensland Government has implementing restricted entry to Queensland as of 12:01am on Thursday, 26 March 2020.

Who is an exempt person?

Those living outside of Queensland who provide critical services to Queensland:

  • national/state security
  • essential health services
  • emergency services
  • transport of goods or freight including food
  • critical construction, maintenance and/or repair to critical infrastructure in Queensland
  • construction, mining/energy/agribusinesses(see specific requirements for FIFO workers in these sectors)
  • Any person who in performing their duties is responsible for provision of services for local passenger transport including bus services, taxi and ride share services, transport or freight is covered
  • federal, state or local government employee worker or contractor who is required to enter Queensland to perform official duties.

View the Queensland Government’s factsheet overview of border restrictions.

The Queensland Government has also produced a Q&A factsheet regarding the border restrictions.

Crossing the border for work-related purposes

If your farm is in a border area there is another exemption that allows people who live interstate near the border but work in Queensland to travel for that purpose. This exemption is not restricted to essential services.

Any employees needing to cross the border into Queensland will need to provide evidence at border checkpoints of who they are working for and confirming they are entering Queensland to go directly to work.

Growcom has developed a template letter to provide your employees.

Apply for a border-pass

The online portal enabling members of the public to apply for a Queensland Entry Pass can now be accessed via www.qld.gov.au/border-pass.

The portal is designed for non-residents who have a need for essential travel into Queensland, relying upon an exemption category under the Chief Health Officer’s direction related to Border Crossing.

Applicants who are deemed eligible for an entry pass will be electronically issued a pass at the end of completing a short online form. The issued pass is print-at-home and applicants given instructions to display within their vehicle to enable priority passage.

Health Plan

Businesses wanting to bring their interstate workers to Queensland will need to develop a Health Plan as required by Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer. The Health Plan sets out basic hygiene and cleaning requirements to address the spread of Covid-19.

An authorised health and safety officer from your business will be required to confirm that the business has implemented the requirements in the plan on all your worksites. Once you have implemented the requirements and executed the plan it must be returned to Queensland Health.

In order to access this exemption, the Company must have executed and returned the plan to Queensland Health. This can be done via email. The employees who are entering into QLD should also be forwarded a copy to ensure smooth entrance as an exempt person.

You can find the Health Plan template HERE.

Instructions on how to submit your Health Plan can be found HERE.

To help comply with the Health Plan employers may wish to request that employees complete a Personal Disclosure Statement outlining any travel they have had and an undertaking to disclose any relevant information regarding their personal exposure to coronavirus. You can find the template HERE.

WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY

The Queensland Government has released recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace.

Queensland Health has updated employer information to support people returning to normal activities at the end of a period of self-quarantine.

Can employees claim for WorkCover if they contract the virus while at work?

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

WorkCover Queensland has advised that claims for coronavirus, it will be assessed similarly to how they assess other statutory claims for viral diseases.

There would need to be:

  • Testing to confirm the worker has the virus.
  • Confirmation that the worker was exposed to another person in the workplace who has also was confirmed to have the virus.
  • Satisfaction that, on the balance of probabilities, the virus was contracted in the course of their employment and that employment was a significant contributing factor to the virus diagnosis.

Any new claims in relation to coronavirus will be determined and managed by a centralised team in line with the current legislation. WorkCover will work with workers, employers and treating providers to determine how workers have contracted coronavirus and make decisions in accordance with the Act.

If an employee is required to go into quarantine will WorkCover pay the employees’ wages?

WorkCover will not cover wages during quarantine unless:

  • there is diagnosis of coronavirus;
  • the exposure has been confirmed in connection with work; and
  • there is an accepted workers’ compensation claim.

Transmission of coronavirus via food

Advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is that the virus is unlikely to be transmitted through food, however investigations into how the virus spreads is continuing. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released a statement noting there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus.

Safe Food Queensland has also developed very useful FAQs, which you can find on their website. They have also answered the question ‘Can livestock spread COVID-19?’.

Resources for your workplace 

Home isolation chart for travellers
Novel Coronavirus factsheet – What you need to know
Clean Hands, Save Lives – A 12-step guide to handwashing
See a doctor immediately poster (in English)
See a doctor immediately poster (in Chinese)

Are you having trouble sourcing PPE for your workplace?

The Queensland Government has developed an online form to help businesses currently impacted by coronavirus access vital materials and supplies, such as PPE to remain open. To submit your request: Manufacturer’s Supply Matching Request form

WORKPLACE PROTOCOLS – KEEPING YOUR WORKPLACE SAFE

We understand a big concern for Growers right now is Work Health and Safety (WHS) and trying to understand what they need to do to keep their employees safe and comply with the various new social distancing rules that have been imposed by government.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is working with industry to develop some guidelines that are more specific to our unique needs. Growcom will forward this information to you as soon as it becomes available.

While those guidelines are under development, please refer to the PMA A-NZ developed a checklist to assist business in the fresh produce industry (fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers) better manage teams in the unique environments of harvesting and packing fresh produce as a reference.

What are the symptoms and how does coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus spreads from person to person in a similar way to the flu:

  • from close contact with an infected person
  • from touching objects or surfaces contaminated by the sneeze or cough of an infected person and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Close contact is considered to be:

  • 15 minutes or more face to face (distance less than 1.5 metres) with the infected person
  • 2 hours or more in a small closed space with the infected person

Not close contacts would be:

  • All other employees or visitors on site
  • An individual greeting, even if there was a handshake is not considered to be close contact

Coronavirus can cause symptoms similar to the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath.

Most people who are infected experience mild to moderate symptoms from which they fully recover. However, some people develop more serious illness with pneumonia and other complications. People at increased risk of serious illness include the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions (eg. diabetes, heart and lung disease) or a weakened immune system.

It is important to remember that most people who become ill with respiratory symptoms at work are likely suffering from a cold, the flu or other respiratory illness – not coronavirus.

What measures should employers put in place to help prevent the spread of infection at work?

Employers should:

  • Provide hand washing facilities and make sure these are kept clean, properly stocked and in good working order.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitiser, tissues and cleaning supplies.
  • Promote good hygiene practices, eg. display posters on handwashing and respiratory hygiene.
  • Keep the workplace clean and hygienic. Regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces such as door handles and workstations helps prevent contamination.
  • Encourage workers who are sick with respiratory illness to stay home until they are recovered.
  • If someone becomes ill with respiratory symptoms at work, isolate them by placing them in a room or an area away from others.
  • Arrange for the person to be sent home and advise them to seek medical advice. If they are very unwell, call an ambulance.

Employees should be expected to:

  • Wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing, dispose of tissues immediately after use and wash hands or apply hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • Stay home if they are unwell.

If a worker has a SUSPECTED or CONFIRMED case of coronavirus

Safe Work Australia has prepared a downloadable factsheet here.

If your worker is confirmed to have COVID-19 you need to follow the health advice from the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or your state or territory helpline.

However, if you know a worker is confirmed to have the COVID-19 virus, you must make sure the worker does not return to work while they are infectious.

If you notice a worker showing other signs they may be unwell (e.g. frequent coughing) and you think they should not be at work, you should follow your usual workplace policies and procedures. This may include directing the worker to go home.

If you decide to require workers to stay away from work, you may still be obliged to pay them. You should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for further information on 13 13 94.

Generally, you must:

  • Identify the hazards
  • Assess the risks
  • Control the risks
  • Review the control measures
  • Consult with workers and other duty holders.

For more information please refer to Safe Work Australia website.

OTHER RESOURCES AND GENERAL INFORMATION

A new Queensland Government dedicated COVID-19 website has been developed: www.covid19.qld.gov.au

The Australian Government has also launched a website for information related to the COVID-19 federal government response: www.australia.gov.au

Fair Farms has produced their first professional development webinar focusing on workplace issues in the context of coronavirus.

Fair Farms Professional Development – Workplace Issues in the Context of Coronavirus

BDO, in partnership with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, will deliver a series of webinars over the coming weeks to provide you with expert support to help you minimise the impact and lead discussions on the key issues as they unfold.

Supporting Agriculture with business continuity planning & managing supply chain disruption

PMA A-NZ is planning a series of online discussions focusing on COVID-19 and the different ways it is impacting your business.

Roundtable Recording: COVID-19 and Managing Your Team