Visa extensions welcome, uniform approach sought from states
4 April 2020
Citrus Australia welcomes today’s Federal Government decision to allow Working Holiday Makers (backpackers) and Pacific Islanders to extend their stay for up to 12 months of work.
CEO Nathan Hancock said the Government must ensure these bridging visas can be approved as soon as possible as the Queensland citrus harvest is underway.
Mr Hancock has also called on the Government to actively assist regional councils and growers prepare self-isolation arrangements with practical measures and guidance.
The Government must also assist effective communication with backpackers about the need to register their self-isolation.
“Our growers are ready to harvest thousands of tonnes of fresh Australian citrus for Australian consumers, and immediate access to these visa extensions is crucial,” Mr Hancock said.
“We are pleased the Government has made this decision and our growers will prioritise all health and safety requirements related to the management of COVID-19. “
Mr Hancock said growers are already adjusting housing arrangements and workplace practices in the orchard and packing sheds to cater for social distancing and hygiene requirements.
However, Federal and state governments must continue to work with the citrus and other horticulture industries in producing uniform guidelines for all businesses, he said.
“Citrus Australia has provided advice to growers on how to manage their harvest, and their workforce, through this challenging period.
“The Government has said it will work with states and territories on enforcement and sanction mechanisms.
“However, it is imperative that Federal and state governments produce a uniform, accepted set of guidelines for all growers to follow.”
Mr Hancock said the Government must also assist local councils in providing adequate facilities in what are often small towns for any workers potentially exposed to COVID-19 to self-isolate.
“The seasonal workforce, and agricultural businesses, are crucial to the economic wellbeing of these councils and some councils have taken up the challenge to prepare for these unusual circumstances.
“Government assistance is both necessary and warranted.”
To assist with the management of COVID-19 in the orchard and the packing shed, Citrus Australia has prepared a comprehensive guide available from its website here.
For further information, contact Stephen Cooke, Industry Engagement Manager, Citrus Australia, on 0427 124 437 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Key points from today’s Federal Government media release:
- 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.