Season workers deal signed by Tasmania to fly in 700 workers from Pacific Islands to pick fruit

Tasmanian berry picking

The Tasmanian Government has signed a deal to fly in 700 workers from Pacific Islands to pick fruit.

The Tasmanian Government will pay for hotel quarantine of the seasonal workers.

It estimated 700 workers will be needed in the harvest period to January. A capped cost of the worker’s airfare will deducted from their earnings.


Tasmanian berry growers are planning to charter flights from the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste next month to fly out workers for their harvest. Up to 700 people involved in the Seasonal Worker Program are part of the deal, negotiated by industry, the State and Federal Governments.

The Commonwealth will need to sign off on the new recruits, before assigning visas. The workers will also have health assessments before leaving their home countries. They are expected to fly into Canberra for customs checks and then onto Hobart, for mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks, paid for by the Tasmanian Government.

Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister Guy Barnett said the industry would have to apply for it on behalf of these workers. “They have a job to do and obligations to meet,” he said. The workers will have to undergo COVID tests on days one, five and 10 and return a negative result before starting work.

“We’ve got an allocation in the order of 150 or thereabouts every couple of weeks,” Mr Barnett said.

More locals for workforce

The Tasmanian Government will also provide a $250 payment to each overseas worker, through the Pandemic Assistant Grants. “It’s very competitive across the mainland states and we want to make sure we have the workers to do the job,” Mr Barnett said. He said it was estimated that 700 workers would be needed between now and January.

‘Quite a process’

Hillwood Berries in the state’s north has ramped up efforts to support more locals into its workforce, and bring in extra Pacific workers as well. Last season the business employed close to 300 people from Pacific nations and Timor-Leste.

“It’s quite a process to bring the workers in as an approved employer,” managing director Simon Dornauf said.

How much will it cost ?

Growers and seasonal workers will share the cost of flights. “At the moment we’ve got a quote for a flight out of Timor and Tonga to be around $1,500 per person one way,” Mr Dornauf said. He said the flight costs would be deducted from the worker’s wage as they earned money throughout the season.

“As these charter flights are more expensive than usual passenger flights, we have been capped on what we can deduct. “Timor for an example might be $800 for a one-way flight, off the worker, and we’ll have to wear the other half.”

Mr Dornauf said it could take up to eight weeks to process groups of workers and there was a risk some might not arrive in time for the raspberry harvest. “It’s not like we can get 700 people here for the middle of December. “We need to spread that out over these quarantine periods.”

Growers plan to share workers to ensure berries are picked and support other industries that need to fill the labour shortage, like cherries.

 

Tasmanian berry picking
Tasmanian berry farmers are chartering flights from Timor-Leste and Pacific nations to bring in fruit pickers.(ABC Rural: Laurissa Smith)

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