Call for urgent action to allow Pacific Islander workers to top up local labour shortage

AUSVEG VIC, Victoria’s peak industry body for vegetable and potato growers, is calling for the urgent extension of the quarantining arrangement between Victoria and Tasmania to allow workers from the Pacific Islands to perform essential work on Victorian farms.

The quarantining pathway arrangement, which was announced in January 2021 and capped at 1,500 workers, has been filled and growers now require an extension of these arrangements to bring in workers for the upcoming harvest period.

According to AUSVEG VIC President and Victorian vegetable grower Paul Gazzola, the Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme have proven vital for Victorian producers to fill the growing void in the state’s workforce and extending the quarantine pathway arrangement is a high priority for industry.

“Victoria’s vegetable growers have planned ahead and lodged their workforce needs early to ensure they have a workforce for their harvest period, but that process has now been delayed as we await sign off from the Victorian Government,” said Mr Gazzola.

“The delay of quarantine arrangements is now creating a backlog of flights, which will continue to put more pressure on the system the longer it drags on.

This is deeply concerning for AUSVEG VIC and its members as we get closer to our peak demand, which really starts to ramp up in October. Industry needs this quarantine program to be approved immediately.”

A recent report by EY into horticulture’s harvest workforce needs estimates there could be a shortage of up to 24,000 workers this year across the country, of which a large portion will in Victoria given the size of the sector.

“This arrangement is also important for these workers and their communities. COVID-19 has devastated the tourism industry on the Pacific Islands, with many Pacific Islanders relying on employment in Australian and New Zealand agriculture to provide for their families,” Mr Gazzola said.

“The continuation of the Victorian and Tasmanian pathway is an important step to restore grower confidence to ensure planting levels are maintained so that availability of fresh produce meets demand.”

“Urgent action is needed from the Victorian government to address the uncertain solution to the state’s labour shortage. Action from the Victorian government will secure supply of fresh produce for consumers and support local businesses in regional communities.”

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