The Federal Nationals in Government are making temporary changes to visa arrangements to help farmers access the workforce they need to secure Australia’s food and produce supply during COVID-19.
The changes allow those within the Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Program and working holiday makers to continue to work in agriculture and food processing until the coronavirus crisis has passed.
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack said the Government was protecting the health of Australians by supporting businesses, providing job opportunities and securing our food supply.
“We can’t afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines and vegetables left unpicked. It is vital our farmers maximise their hard work and economic returns,” Mr McCormack said.
“We are acting to enable seasonal workers to extend their stay and remain lawfully in Australia until they are able to return to their home countries.
“The agriculture sector relies on an ongoing workforce and we are committed to providing the means for that to continue while ensuring strict health and safety measures are adhered to, including visa holders following self-isolation requirements when they move between regions.”
Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said workforce requirements for agriculture change within and across states as different crops are ready for harvest.
“It is essential for our food security that workers can move to meet these seasonal labour needs,” Mr Littleproud said.
“At the same time it is critical we manage this labour force to support the on-going health of regional communities.
“We are working closely with State and Territory Governments and industry to ensure appropriate health controls are in place for the ongoing health and well-being of our regional communities.”
There are tough rules to ensure that COVID-19 is not transported to regional and rural communities that have thankfully not experienced the same level transmission.
Before moving to other parts of the country, working holiday makers will need to self-isolate for 14 days and register at the Australia.gov.au website. Those who do not comply will face having their visas cancelled.
The National Farmers Federation has developed best practice guidance for farmers regarding requirements for the living and working arrangements for farm workers (either domestic or migrant) during the covid-19 outbreak.
“We have asked the Chief Medical Officer to review these guidelines and it is critical that they are then considered by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Sadly, there’s been a significant number of Australians who’ve lost their jobs due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“I know some farmers have seen strong interest from job ads and we are keeping market testing requirements in place to ensure recruitment of Australians first.
“We are well positioned with the decisions we’ve taken today to ensure that critical industries, such as agriculture, are well supported during this time and that Australia remains positioned to produce the food we need.”
The conditions under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa arrangements will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, continuing the strong links between Pacific seasonal workers and their employers.
These changes complement and are in addition to additional measures for temporary visa holders.
- Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme workers can extend their stay for up to 12 months to work for approved employers (ensuring pastoral care and accommodation needs of workers are met to minimise health risks to visa holders and the community).
- Approved employers under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme will need to continue engaging with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment on labour market testing to ensure recruitment of Australians first.
- Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) who work in agriculture or food processing will be exempt from the six month work limitation with the one employer and eligible for a further visa to keep working in these critical sectors if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.
- Conditions will be placed upon visa holders to self-isolate for 14 days before taking up employment in a different region (including termination of visas where there is non-compliance).
- To support implementation of self-isolation arrangements for visa holders and avoid spread of COVID-19 the government is working with states and territories on enforcement and sanction mechanisms.
- Employers will need to commit to providing safe accommodation for agricultural workers that complies with social distancing requirements.
- Arrangement will also need to be in place for a declaration between employers and employees that all protocols necessary to ensure human health and accommodation requirements have been met.