Australian-first seasonal worker trial program extended

The Queensland Government has extended an Australian-first seasonal worker trial program to help Queensland farmers harvest their produce.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme (PLS/SWP) trial had been extended until 4 March 2021 in response to seasonal worker shortages.

“Queensland has led the way with an Australian-first trial of on-farm quarantine arrangements for workers from Pacific Island nations with the lowest risk of COVID-19 transmission,” Mr Furner said.

“In November the initial group of 151 workers from Tonga became the first seasonal workers to successfully complete on-farm quarantine.

“With no significant issues identified, it is appropriate to extend the trial and keep assessing it to determine if permanently resuming the PLS/SWP program is feasible.”

Mr Furner said in the trial’s initial phase, about 650 workers would be flown into Queensland to help address labour shortages in North Queensland, Central Queensland and the Wide Bay-Burnett area.

“To date, 458 workers have arrived from Tonga and the Solomon Islands to pick grapes, citrus, sweet potatoes, bananas, apples and berries, or work in major food processing facilities,” he said.

“Extending the trial will help address industry requests for additional flights as employer interest has, understandably, far exceeded the available seats on the first flights.

“The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will continue to review the trial, in consultation with the agriculture industry, employers approved to recruit workers under the PLS/SWP, Queensland Health and other relevant government agencies.”

Mr Furner said the trial was one of several options the Government had developed to help Queensland farmers access an agricultural workforce.

“The Government’s $1.1 million seasonal worker package, which includes the Back to Work in Agriculture Incentive Scheme and the #pickQld social media campaign, is designed to encourage more people in Queensland to work on farms,” Mr Furner said.

“Additionally, the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network assists in the development of local workforce solutions, in collaboration with local stakeholders.

“The Government has worked closely with the agriculture industry during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure growers can identify seasonal workforce solutions while meeting their public health obligations and will continue to explore all options to encourage, place and keep Queenslanders in agricultural work.”

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