Quarantine deal opens door to Pacific Islander seasonal workers

Victoria will receive 1500 seasonal farm workers from the Pacific Islands who will quarantine in Tasmania before travelling to the mainland in a deal to help plug major workforce shortages.

The Tasmanian government will oversee the Pacific Islander quarantine arrangements for the workers, who will also have to receive a negative test before coming to Victoria.

Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas.Credit:Joe Armao

In return, the Victorian government will provide quarantine for an additional 330 Australians overseas who want to return home.

The arrangement will be in place for the first half of this year.

But fears remain within the industry that demand for fruit pickers will easily outstrip the number of workers arriving over the six-month period.

The Victorian government and agriculture industry will pay for the costs of quarantining the Pacific Island workers. The Tasmanian government will foot the bill for the 330 returned travellers, as part of its commitment to bringing Australians home.

Fruit pickers at work in the Goulburn Valley this week. Credit:Justin McManus

The horticulture industry has been sounding the alarm about a major shortage of Pacific Island seasonal farm workers, amid fears large amounts of fruit may be left to rot on trees.

The picking season for apples and pears has just begun at many orchards in Victoria.

Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas called on the federal government to expedite the processing of visas for the workers. But she said local workers must be encouraged to help fill the labour shortages.

Ms Thomas insisted Victorians would not have to wait longer to arrive in Melbourne because of the agreement to take on more returning Tasmanian travellers.

The state government has launched a campaign targeting students, migrants and grey nomads to take on seasonal work, but some growers say many Australian-born workers are unwilling to do the work.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said the announcement was a small step in the right direction.

“We still need to know exactly what cost will be borne by the farmer,” she said.

Ms Germano said the timing of the workers’ arrival was also crucial. “If you miss a crop by a week you can have missed the crop entirely.”

She said 1500 workers were a “drop in the ocean” compared to what was needed but they would be very welcome for the growers who took them on.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said his state’s quarantine program would focus soley on arrivals who presented a lower risk of transmission.

“Under the agreement with Victoria, Tasmania will assist Victoria to ensure it has the workforce it needs to harvest its produce, while still contributing to the national repatriation effort to bring our people home, ensuring more of our stranded Australians can reunite with their loved ones,” he said.

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