As losses mount, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian must consult with citrus industry
27 July 2020
Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock has urged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to consult with industry and cancel the ban on workers currently costing growers $1.7 million a day.
Mr Hancock said the Premier had repeated incorrect information at recent media conferences and is concerned her misunderstanding of the dire situation may be preventing a solution.
“Citrus Australia has been working with NSW DPI to find a solution to this problem but ultimately the final decision must be made by NSW Health,” Mr Hancock said.
“We are concerned that the Premier has made incorrect statements on two occasions and can only hope that NSW Health is aware of the current status, and if so, enlighten the Premier.”
At media conferences last week and again on Monday, the Premier said restrictions for seasonal workers have been in place since the pandemic began “so that’s no different now”.
“It’s a very different scenario now,” Mr Hancock said. “Workers previously had to isolate before joining farms to work, which they have done, with many having worked on NSW farms close to the border since May.
“As of last Wednesday, the NSW Government placed a complete ban on all seasonal workers holding visas from entering NSW, with no option to enter at all.
“It is a completely different set of rules that disregards the COVID-19 prevention measures industry, accommodation providers and growers have put in place to protect themselves, these workers and the community.
“It also discriminates against seasonal workers with visas, who are abiding by these rules, and as of today has cost growers $10 million.”
Mr Hancock said the Premier’s statements that these essential agriculture workers could be easily replaced were ill-informed and misleading.
At Monday’s media conference, the Premier stated: “We also need to look at the unemployment rate in NSW. I don’t think anybody at this stage will find it difficult to hire labour, especially casual labour, given a lot of younger people are unemployed due to the hospitality sector taking a hit.”
Mr Hancock said: “We are talking about 1200 workers that need to be replaced immediately.
“Unfortunately the Premier’s comments seem influenced by her location at Macquarie Street. We would be pleased to host the Premier and her advisers on a tour of our farms so she can hear firsthand the issues of attracting and retaining a workforce. The staff shortage she has created won’t be filled by those who have lost work in the CBD.
“Until the mess of this government’s doing, the usual seasonal issues we face in sourcing labour are why industry has worked with the Federal Government for many years on developing these seasonal visas to attract labour, because seasonal work has been difficult to attract locals to engage.
“Our growers are always happy to employ locals wanting to work in agriculture, and those wanting to drive the 1000km from Sydney overnight would be welcomed.
“We advise them to bring their tents or a swag as the Premier’s ban means all accommodation in nearby NSW towns are full with Police and Army personnel and Mildura accommodation is now taken up by seasonal workers she stripped of their livelihood with next to no notice.”
Mr Hancock finished by saying the Premier’s comment that “on the rung of issues for us to be concerned about, that’s (the seasonal worker ban) not high on the list” was offensive to growers who have had their business continuity derailed by a “kneejerk reaction” to imagined threats that visa holders alone could hold to the community.
For further information, contact Stephen Cooke, Industry Engagement Manager, Citrus Australia, on 0427 124 437 or firstname.lastname@example.org