Up to 1,500 workers from the Pacific Islands will undergo 14 days of quarantine in Tasmania before arriving into Victoria, under an agreement between the Victorian and Tasmanian state governments.
“The arrival of workers is a fantastic step to bolster the local workforce for the Big Victorian Harvest,” Victorian Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas said in a statement. “We have worked hard to secure these workers in partnership with other jurisdictions following the challenges faced by the coronavirus pandemic.”
In return, the Victorian government agreed to take 330 returned travellers from Tasmania into Melbourne hotel quarantine with Tasmania paying the bill, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
“This is a great example of what can be achieved when governments, industry, and employers work together for the greater good of agriculture,” Thomas said.
The first group of Pacific Islands workers will spend the next few days settling into their new homes as they prepare for work next week.
Workers from the Pacific nations are considered a lower COVID-19 risk and are regular seasonal workers under the Pacific Labour Mobility scheme and Seasonal Worker program.
While the intake of 1,500 Pacific island workers is half of the usual intake, and very much welcomed, Thomas said that it’s not a “silver bullet.”
“We need to keep working to encourage locals into these jobs—something that the Federal Government should play an active role in,” he said.
The Victorian government has offered up to $2,500 for local job seekers to take up seasonal work, which is at a reported shortfall of 26,000 workers due to international border closures.
To entice workers to stay on the job longer, Thomas said the government devised a strategy to split payments so that workers could get the total payment after eight weeks.
“It’s hard work and some people may want to give it a go and find out after two weeks that perhaps they are not able to continue because it is hard physical work,” he said.
Mooroopna grower Peter Hall told the ABC that Australians have always been reluctant to take up fruit harvesting work.
“The real issue for our industry, and I think for agriculture generally, is getting a sustainable workforce that enjoys and welcomes harvest labour and the demands of that,” he said.
But CEO of Food manufacturer SPC said the cash incentive was “clever” as the state awaits the arrival of Pacific Islands workers.
“It encourages people to start and give them something for 10 days and then encourages them to stay longer,” he said.
“Our Pacific neighbours will be warmly welcomed on our farms from next week and will join local workers across the state as the harvest continues,” Thomas said.
The Victorian government thanked the workers for their “commitment and valuable contribution” to the state.
AAP contributed to this report.