Foreign ag workers arrive to help local farmers

Steph Cooke MP with local primary producers. Photo taken prior to mask mandate.

Gundagai is the latest town to welcome the arrival of overseas skilled agricultural workers to help local farmers overcome the COVID-induced labour shortage.

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke said Gundagai and Junee were two of 15 regions to share in the employment of an additional 442 overseas workers in the horticulture and meat processing sectors last month.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the NSW Government has aided the arrival of almost 2,000 overseas agricultural workers right across the state. Gundagai is now on the list of places to have welcomed them,” Ms Cooke said.

“International border closures have created a whole new range of challenges for our agricultural industry, but by approving the arrival of these workers, we ensure our farmers can continue to grow the food and fibre we all rely on.

“Junee was one of the first towns to benefit from this program and I am delighted more foreign workers are coming into our region to help overcome the COVID-induced labour shortage.”

Ms Cooke said it is crucial that the region’s farms, orchards and meat processing facilities have the workforce they need so production and the supply chain are not inhibited.

“We have also ensured these arriving workers fall outside the international arrivals cap so as not to impact on returning Australians,” she said.

While the workers have come from countries with low-to-no rates of COVID-19, they were still required to undergo two weeks of hotel isolation, but the NSW Government had subsidised half the quarantine costs.

“The health and safety of our communities remains priority number one, especially for our bush communities,” Ms Cooke said.

“But we recognise that quarantining workers for two weeks is a significant barrier for our farming businesses, which is why we subsidise 50 per cent of those costs.

“This reduces the burden on our local agribusinesses from $3,000 per person, to $1500.”

Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said the lack of workers in the agricultural sector remained at critical levels, which is why the NSW Government’s continued support was so important. 

“The number of overseas skilled agricultural workers we’ve helped arrive safely to work on farms and in meat processing factories across the state has now ticked past 2,000 – more than any other State,” Mr Marshall said.

“It is critical industry has the workforce it needs during these challenging times so there can be minimal disruption to supply chains. This labour boost is an important step towards securing our food supply.

“Right now workers are rolling up their sleeves, from Moree to Junee, in Singleton and in Scone, from Gundagai down to Wagga Wagga and in many more bush communities.

“They have provided a substantial boost to our horticulture and meat processing sectors in particular.”

Minister Marshall said NSW is by far the cheapest jurisdiction in Australia for industry to bring in critical ag workers.

“Which underscores the value we place on the agricultural sector here,” he said.

“So far we have provided $2.86 million in support under the program and that figure will continue to grow significantly while international borders remain shut.”

The arrival of the more than 2,000 overseas agricultural workers was approved under the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Workers Program. 

Mandatory hotel quarantine applies to all international arrivals in accordance with Public Health Orders.

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