In a massive blow for the Western Australian horticulture industry, the WA Government has advised there is no longer the capacity to accommodate seasonal workers in its managed hotel quarantine system.
Following the release of an independent review into hotel quarantine arrangements in WA, the Chief Health Officer (CHO) has advised that several changes will be made to strengthen the WA hotel quarantine regime for international arrivals.
This decision severely compromises the ability of WA growers to harvest crops; it will also have consequences for the state’s wine and tourism industries.
vegetablesWA president Damir Kuzmicich said he was shocked by the announcement and urged the WA Government to examine how other states are managing the very same challenge and find a workable solution that doesn’t sacrifice local food processing and people’s livelihoods.
“There are so many alternative options to utilising the existing hotel quarantine measures,” Mr Kuzmicich said.
“The WA Government could add another quarantine hotel to increase capacity or look at regional accommodation options.
“Other states are moving forward, and WA is getting left behind at the expense of its growers.”
Last month the South Australian Government announced that more than 1,000 seasonal workers will be able to safely arrive in South Australia over the coming months, with a speciality regional quarantine facility to be set up in the Riverland.
The facility at Paringa will cater specifically for workers arriving under the Commonwealth Seasonal Worker Programme (SLP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), with new arrivals expected every 14 days over the next three months.
Meanwhile the New South Wales State Government announced last week that it would be subsidising half the quarantine costs for overseas agricultural workers.
This means that overseas agricultural workers entering the country under the PLS or SWP would be eligible for a 50 per cent subsidy of the cost of mandatory quarantine to reduce the cost to industry from $3,000 per person to $1,500 per person for 2020-21.
vegetablesWA labour scheme facilitator, Melissa Denning, said it was hard to believe that other states understood the urgent need for these workers and were actively rolling out opportunities to ensure food production was not impeded, yet WA was scaling back.
“We have welcomed four plane loads of Pacific workers since December and the process has been seamless, with zero cases of Covid-19 resulting from these programmes,” she said.
“In January, Victoria and Tasmania struck a deal which saw workers from the Pacific Islands allowed into Victoria under special quarantine arrangements.
“Tasmania quarantines the workers for two weeks before they are allowed onto Victorian farms.
“Perhaps we need to look at making similar arrangements with another state to keep the steady flow of workers into WA.
“Queensland looks like it will use Grantham Lodge, a regional facility, to accommodate its seasonal workers, which we see as a logical solution considering its close proximity to the farming regions these workers will be employed.”
Approval of hotel quarantine for 140 Vanuatu workers, scheduled for arrival into Perth on May 7, 2021, has been denied.
The deadline for the next scheduled charter flight is April 19, and this would see 151 workers from Tonga entering the State to assist with vineyard pruning in Margaret River.
“A decision is needed by the WA Government by April 19 for this flight to proceed,” Ms Denning said.
“It takes at least five weeks for the Pacific countries to mobilise the workers.
“These flights take time to coordinate at both ends to ensure the safety of the WA community and the Pacific workers.”
Mr Kuzmicich said the message coming from the WA Government for the past 12 months had been to plan for anticipated labour shortages.
“The Seasonal Worker Programme can alleviate some of these shortages, so we ask the State Government for a commitment to ensure flights and quarantine arrangement can continue for at least the remainder of 2021.”