More than 4,500 staff from the Department of Regional NSW and the NSW Department of Primary Industries will be able to access five days’ special leave to assist farmers with an expected bumper harvest season in 2021.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole said special leave entitlements, rolling out for the first time, will allow departmental staff to lend a much-needed hand as farmers struggle to find workers to bring in the crop.
“Agriculture and farming play a pivotal role in our economy, so providing harvest leave to staff to provide an extra set of hands in the field helps get produce to market and dollars into farmers’ pockets,” Mr Toole said.
“Nearly 80 per cent of staff from the Department of Regional NSW already live and work in regional NSW, so chances are most of them know their way around a header or a chaser bin and how important this busy time of year is for regional communities.
“We’ve had a tough run in the regions over the past few years with prolonged drought, and COVID-19, which has significantly impacted seasonal harvest worker availability, right at a time when we need all hands-on deck to get crops off.
“These workers can volunteer to help out with any harvest, anywhere in the state – from harvesting blueberries in Coffs Harbour, oranges and table grapes in the Riverina and Murray, to cherries in the Central West or helping bring in a bumper grain harvest.”
Nationals Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said the unprecedented move was another example of the good work this government was doing to help farmers source the workforce they need for another record harvest.
“Drastic times call for drastic measures. There is no silver bullet to solve the COVID-exacerbated workforce shortage, but this is another step we are implementing to support industry,” Mr Marshall said.
“This will be a record season and Harvest Leave provides another positive incentive to ensure this year’s crops are harvested, with the flow of economic gains being delivered to local communities and the people of NSW.
“I encourage all eligible staff to take advantage of this initiative, get some fresh country air in the lungs and help alleviate some of the pressures facing farmers during harvest.”
Staff can use local contacts or the Help Harvest NSW website to help find suitable opportunities to assist in this year’s harvest. There is no cost to farmers getting help from departmental volunteers, as staff will be paid at their standard leave rate by the Department. Leave will be managed to ensure there will be no impact on services provided by the Department.
The NSW Government has implemented a range of measures to overcome the agriculture workforce shortage, including subsidies for quarantine costs of 2,500 overseas agricultural workers, the Ag Workers’ Code and the ‘Help Harvest NSW’ website to connect agriculture employers with out of work Australians.