Harvesting White Grapes
Harvesting White Grapes

‘COMMON SENSE’: New rules on working backpackers welcomed

BACKPACKERS will be allowed to extend their stays in Australia to help farmers during picking seasons, but strict new measures have been introduced to protect the rural communities they enter.

In a bid to protect regional communities from coronavirus, backpackers will also have to self-isolate for 14 days before they start working.

The decision has been welcomed by Bowen growers, with Bowen Gumlu Grower’s Association president Carl Walker calling it ‘the common-sense approach’.

BGGA President Carl Walker with Japanese trainee Sawako Komine.
BGGA President Carl Walker with Japanese trainee Sawako Komine.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said extending the visas of working holiday makers and seasonal workers would ensure farmers had enough labour to plant and pick their crops.

“It is essential for our food security that workers can move to meet these seasonal labour needs,” Minister Littleproud said.

“At the same time it is critical we manage this labour force to support the ongoing 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 wellbeing of our regional communities.”

Mr Littleproud said there were “tough rules” which would be enforced for anyone in the travelling workforce.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

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.

Mr Walker said it was the “right and commonsense idea”, and it would help fill the workforce gap many farmers had been concerned about.

“I welcome the news, as would many growers. It’s a move that’s common sense, and we expect nothing less than this approach from George Christensen and David Littleproud who I know have been pushing hard behind the scenes to get this through,” he said.

“The backpackers will help fill up the employment gaps, and the isolation aspect is the right move. We need to take this seriously, and this shows that.”

Kingfisher Citrus
Kingfisher Citrus

“Us growers are taking this extremely seriously and barely leaving our farms so we can stay healthy and fit. We need to see everyone doing that as much as possible.”

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said agriculture is an essential sector.

He said visa holders fill a critical workforce gap in the agricultural sector, and the temporary measures would allow work to continue.

“We are giving certainty to our agriculture workforce so they can get food from farms to our shops and ensure critical services continue,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the economy and the health of Australians couldn’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,” he said.

Key Facts

-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.