Australian banana group urges visa extensions amid labor shortage fears
The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) has urged the Australian Government to extend the time current working holiday visa holders can stay in the country to ensure a continued and sustained workforce.
In the wake of the current Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, ABGC chair Stephen Lowe said retaining current staff on bananas farms was imperative to protect the continuity of supply of bananas to Australian consumers, and keep banana growers in business.
Horticultural industries, including bananas, have expressed broad concern about future labor needs on farms as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis and understandable travel restrictions placed on international visitors by the Federal Government.
There have been concern in many countries over recent weeks over potential severe labor shortages due to the pandemic and related travel restrictions.
“In this current climate, it is safer for growers in banana growing communities to keep staff on farms locally, as opposed to – say here in North Queensland - bringing in workers from southeast Queensland or interstate,” Lowe said.
“As it currently stands, the advice from Government and other authorities, is that we should all restrict non-essential travel. This, combined with border closures Australia wide, means it is critical that current working holiday visa holders are able to extend their stay.
“If backpackers and Pacific Islanders currently working on farms are not provided with visa extensions, growers are unlikely to be able to replace them with other workers in a timeframe that would be required to ensure farms continue to operate.”
Lowe said the ABGC had written to eight Federal Ministers (including the employment, immigration and agriculture portfolios) and other politicians to lobby for visa extensions, but a lack of action to date was concerning and failed to reflect the urgency of the issue.
“We appreciate there are a large number of people in other industries who have lost their jobs already as a result of the strict regulations introduced by the Government,” Lowe said.
“However, for our national industry right now, it is imperative that we do all in our power to retain our existing workforce (locally), in the current restrictive environment that we all are currently trying to navigate and adapt to.
“We need to be very clear – this is an immediate need. We need to retain our present staff so our growers can continue to put bananas on supermarket shelves.
“I implore the Federal Immigration Minister to approve the extension of working holiday maker visas to those farm staff already in the region, working on banana farms.”