Border closures spark farm labour concern

Border closures spark farm labour concern

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CONCERN: Wool producers are worried about a shearer shortage due to coronavirus restrictions.

CONCERN: Wool producers are worried about a shearer shortage due to coronavirus restrictions.

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Several ag industries are worried about getting workers.

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FARMERS are facing critical worker shortages with international and domestic border closures biting before the looming fruit harvest.

Coronavirus travel restrictions have significantly cut access to backpackers and other international labour schemes such as the Seasonal Worker Program.

Virus-sparked state border closures are also making things difficult for producers about to harvest crops, with citrus and summer fruit picking getting under way.

National Farmers' Federation chief executive, Tony Mahar, said while agriculture has been deemed an essential service, people moving across borders remained fraught.

He said discussions with state and federal governments about solving workforce issues were ongoing.

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"Currently, however there is no silver bullet and safeguarding the health of the community is the number one priority," he told AAP on Wednesday.

Citrus Australia last week warned fruit would be left to rot after the NSW government banned seasonal workers from crossing the Victorian border for harvest.

The Shearing Contractors Association has warned of a desperate workforce shortage that could lead to financial losses and risks to animal welfare.

Wool producers are worried about a shearer shortage, with the 500 New Zealanders who usually cross the Tasman for the spring shearing season blocked from travelling.

Grain growers are nervous about labour with increased rainfall raising hopes of a bumper crop to be harvested between October and December.

The NFF on Wednesday launched an online hub collating job listings and encouraging farmers to register vacant positions.

"We know the part-time and seasonal nature of some farm work doesn't suit everyone," Mr Mahar said.

"However, we urge job seekers to keep an open mind about what's on offer.

"They may be surprised about how much they can earn in agriculture and horticulture, in some cases, up to $1000 per week."

As unemployment rises due to the pandemic and access to foreign labour severely reduced, there is hope jobs can be filled locally.

"With many Australians now looking for work, it makes sense to do more to highlight the job and career opportunities in agriculture and the regions," Mr Mahar said.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said growers were keen to stress career progression to attract workers.

"There is a level of concern about how difficult it is to get local workers engaged in some of those tasks, like fruit picking," he told AAP during a three-day tour of central Queensland.

"It's seasonal work, so that makes it more difficult but some sort of sense of training and career progression might make it more attractive to local workers."

Australian Associated Press

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