Category Archives: 88 days

COVID-19 quickens push for local workers at country’s largest blueberry co-op

Australia’s largest grower-owned blueberry cooperative has upped its determination to employ local workers, using labour-hire firms and moving away from using backpackers as COVID-19 forces the sector to rethink safety.

Key points:

  • Changing work conditions due to social distancing is likely to push up the price of blueberries
  • Finding pickers made more difficult by COVID-19 guidelines surrounding backpackers
  • Increased push for local workers at the country’s largest blueberry co-op

The move was prompted by the industry’s representative body, the Australian Blueberry Growers Association (ABGA).

Government guidelines require visa holders leaving a metropolitan area to have filled out a disclosure form.

“We back that up with very clear recommendations to our members that they have worker disclosure forms and run through a daily checklist,” ABGA Chief Executive, Rachel Mackenzie, said.

Rachel Mackenzie holding up a small tub of blueberries.
Executive Director of Berries Australia, Rachel Mackenzie, worked closely with blueberry growers as the harvest kicks in(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

“They need to know who their workers are, where they are staying and who they are interacting with.

“We are also really advocating to our growers put their job advertisements on the National Harvest Labour Information Service rather than just have workers turning up.”

Moving from backpackers to local hire

The workforce at the plant increases at harvest time to process the fruit.

For the first time OzGroup, in concert with a labour-hire firm, has implemented a strategy to source as many local employees as possible and operate shifts differently.

CEO Adam Bianchi believed it would go a long way to mitigate potential COVID-19 problems, although he conceded it would result in added costs.

“This year we are looking at doing a bit more in terms of segregating to a day and a night shift, so we will have four separate crews,” Mr Bianchi said.

“We think it’s a necessary cost.”

OzGroup hoped a greater emphasis on local employees would develop their skills, which could then be utilised over the years instead of having to spend time training backpackers.

Harvested blueberries
Harvested blueberries could be a bit more expensive for consumers as measures to ensure COVID-19 guidelines are adhered are likely to increase processing costs(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Harvest puts pressure on supply of workers

Many of the farms are family owned and reliant on backpackers to complement the handful of fulltime workers.

At Corindi, north of Coffs Harbour, Harvey Singh‘s picking is starting later than last year which he puts down to drought.

With 22,000 blueberry plants to be harvested, the job of finding pickers was made harder because travellers had to isolate for 14 days after coming into the area.

Harvey Singh said he asked all his workers where they have come from.

“Most of them have been saying they have been in the region for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

Fellow grower, Aman Lehl, at Corindi Beach, said he “fully supports” the COVID-19 regulations as a “public safety health initiative” which led to changes.

Raspberries are nearing the end of harvest but are not as hardy as blueberries and much of the packing is done in the paddocks.

“We have already had to make changes with social distancing with our packing stations … but so far it has been manageable,” Mr Lehl said.

Rows of plants in fields under nets on a blueberry farm.
Demand for pickers on mid-north coast blueberry farms increases as the harvest kicks in.(Supplied: Phillip Wilk)

Despite the effort to employ locals he is doubtful that many locals will sign up.

“They have been with us for years.”

While growers, processors and industry work to ensure COVID-19 guidelines are adhered to, the ABGA has also tried to reassure the community that all possible steps have been taken.

The ABGA admitted the challenge also is to try and ensure workers behave when not on-farm, so they are meeting councils to talk about accommodation and clear messages for backpackers.

Coronavirus visa decision provides relief for backpackers as farmers receive unprecedented applications for jobs

Backpackers fleeing the capital cities for work on the land are reconnecting with former employers in a bid to stay safe and healthy while remaining in Australia to see out their visas.

Key points:

  • Backpackers report relief at finding work and accommodation on farms during coronavirus after losing jobs in cities
  • Some have been quarantined by employers before they start work, for the protection of locals
  • Farmers report that it is a challenge to accommodate everyone and would welcome government assistance

Many have welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement that any who commit to working in critical industries, such as food supply and healthcare, will be able to extend their visas beyond the expected coronavirus peak.

French working visa holders Yoann Tahet and Anthony Martorell and Briton, Alex Butler, worked on a pineapple farm north of Townsville, in north Queensland last picking season and returned after losing their city jobs in hospitality when Australia’s restaurants and bars closed.

“Luckily I could still get work,” Mr Butler said.

“I lost my job, lost my house in Melbourne. So I messaged the farm and just got straight back up here.”

Under the Government’s new scheme, working holidaymakers, as well as visa holders under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme, can now extend their stay for up to 12 months to work for approved employers, to ensure food security during the coronavirus pandemic.

Young men in high-vis shirts pick melons from the ground and pile onto a truck.
Backpackers have inundated their former farm employers with requests to return to secure employment in rural Australia, which they consider safer than the major centres. (ABC Rural: Tom Major)

‘The best place to be’

The trio arrived back at Rollingstone, 40 kilometres from Townsville, in late March, just prior to borders closing for non-essential workers.

Finding accommodation and reassuring family back home was behind their decision to return to the bush, despite having completed their 88 days compulsory farm work, to gain second-year visas.

“We’d already been to the farm and we knew it was the best place to be — the safest place,” Mr Tahet said.

Mr Butler said the situation in Melbourne and Sydney was more worrying for his family in England and they were pleased he has found relative safety in north Queensland.

“They’re quite happy I’m on the farm to be honest, I was in Melbourne where there’s obviously way more cases than up here — they’re actually quite happy I came to the farm,” he said.

“I don’t know if happy is the right word, but it’s a good farm, I’m glad I can have a job in a situation like this,” Mr Martorell said.

“In France they have been in quarantine for a month, it’s a bad situation over there.”

A young man in a khaki shirt and hat smiles as he stands in a field in front of rows of pineapple plants.
Rian Pace says the upcoming season will be about balancing labour hire between out-of-work locals and former staff who know the requirements of the job. (ABC Rural: Tom Major)

Quarantine measures

Labour manager for Pace Farming, Rian Pace, said the decision to quarantine the workers for two weeks before they began work was based on caution.

“Two out of the four came in on the Thursday, the day after the quarantine period started,” he said.

“We could have applied for an exemption so they could have started work straight away.

“Because of the community we’re in, there’s older Australians working in the business, we decided it’s safer to quarantine them for 14 days.”

The business produces pineapples, melons and pumpkins, relying on a mixture of local labour and backpackers from April through until early January.

Mr Pace has fielded double the usual number of inquiries from prospective workers, many of whom are unemployed backpackers desperate to leave the cities.

“Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had over 100 inquiries, sometimes singly, usually two or three or four people at once,” he said.

Accommodation remains a challenge

Mr Pace said he would preference any eligible workers with experience in agriculture, irrespective of their nationality.

“We’re in unprecedented waters — its going to be a juggling act, obviously we’ll give preference to those who’ve worked for us before,” he said.

“We really have to make sure we look after the locals as well.

“I don’t know how we’re going to manage it but we’ll try and get through it and give as many people jobs as we can.”

Mr Pace said the business has a limited ability to quarantine the staff needed for the season ahead and was looking forward to more assistance and support from government to do so.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer was working with state and territory counterparts to find accommodation for those isolating.

“There’s a number of facilities out there in regional Australia, caravan parks, even motels that don’t have the patronage they did before,” he said.

“This is an important aspect to give confidence to those people in regional Australia who in some respects have seen themselves isolated from the effects of coronavirus.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Bushfire recovery areas under the new WHM (417) visa announcement

It’s finally here, the bushfire recovery work regions which falls under the new Working Holiday Maker (417) visa announcement.

Bushfire recovery work means work undertaken, including work undertaken on a volunteer basis, to assist with bushfire recovery efforts in an area mentioned including: 

(a) construction, farming, or any other work in association with recovery or restitution of land, property, farm animals or wildlife; and (b) providing support services or assistance to people living, working or volunteering in the affected areas. 

The following postcodes apply:

NSW 2311 to 2312; 2328 to 2411; 2420 to 2490; 2536 to 2551; 2575 to 2594; 2618 to 2739; 2787 to 2898. 
VIC  3139; 3211 to 3334; 3340 to 3424; 3430 to 3649; 3658 to 3749; 3753; 3756; 3758; 3762; 3764; 3778 to 3781; 3783; 3797; 3799; 3810 to 3909; 3921 to 3925; 3945 to 3974; 3979; 3981 to 3996. 
QLD 4124 to 4125; 4133; 4211; 4270 to 4272; 4275; 4280; 4285; 4287; 4307 to 4499; 4510; 4512; 4515 to 4519; 4522 to 4899. 
WA 6041 to 6044; 6055 to 6056; 6069; 6076; 6083 to 6084; 6111; 6121 to 6126; 6200 to 6799. 
SA All postcodes 
TAS All postcodes 
NT All postcodes 
Norfolk Island  All postcodes 

New South Wales

Armidale, Ballina, Bega Valley, Bellingen, Blue Mountains, Byron, Central Coast, Cessnock, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Cootamundra-Gundagai, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Goulburn Mulwaree, Gwydir, Greater Hume, Hawkesbury, Inverell, Kempsey, Ku-ring-gai, Kyogle, Lake Macquarie, Lismore, Lithgow, Mid Coast, Mid-Western, Muswellbrook, Nambucca, Narrabri, Oberon, Penrith, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Queanbeyan-Palerang, Richmond Valley, Shoalhaven, Singleton, Snowy Monaro, Snowy Valleys, Sutherland, Tamworth, Tenterfield, Tweed, Upper Hunter, Upper Lachlan, Uralla, Walcha, Wagga Wagga, Wingecarribee, Wollondilly


Alpine, Ararat, Ballarat, East Gippsland, Falls Creek, Glenelg, Golden Plains, Greater Bendigo, Indigo, Mansfield, Mount Buller, Mount Hotham, Mount Stirling, Moyne, Northern Grampians, Pyrenees, Southern Grampians, Strathbogie, Towong, Wangaratta, Wellington, Wodonga


Bundaberg, Gladstone, Gold Coast, Gympie, Ipswich, Livingstone, Lockyer Vallev, Noosa, Redland, Scenic Rim, Somerset, Southern Downs, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba

South Australia

Adelaide Hills, Coorong, , Kangaroo Island, Kingston, Lower Eyre Peninsula, Mid Murray, Mount Barker, Murray Bridge, Playford, Southern Mallee and Yorke Peninsula


Break O’Day, Central Highlands and Southern Midlands

Australia Capital Territory

All areas.

Specified work

For the areas specified the kinds of work mentioned are:


(a) residential building construction;

(b) non-residential building construction;

(c) heavy and civil engineering construction;

(d) land development and site preparation services;

(e) building structure services;

(f) building installation services;

(g) building completion services;

(h) other construction services.

Fishing and pearling

(a) conducting operations relating directly to taking or catching fish and other aquatic species;

(b) conducting operations relating directly to taking or culturing pearls or pearl shell.

Plant and animal cultivation

(a) harvesting and/or packing of fruit and vegetable crops;

(b) pruning or trimming vines and trees directly associated with the cultivation and commercial sale of plant produce;

(c) general maintenance crop work;

(d) cultivating or propagating plants, fungi or their products or parts;

(e) immediate processing of plant products;

(f) maintaining animals for the purposes of selling them or their bodily produce, including natural increase;

(g) immediate processing of animal products including shearing, butchery, packing and tanning, and not including secondary processing;

(h) manufacturing dairy produce from raw material.


(a) coal mining;

(b) oil and gas extraction;

(c) metal ore mining;

(d) construction material mining;

(e) other non-metallic mineral mining and quarrying;

(f) exploration;

(g) mining support services.

Tree farming and felling

(a) planting or tending trees in a plantation or forest that are intended to be felled;

(b) felling trees in a plantation or forest;

(c) transporting trees or parts of trees that were felled in a plantation or forest to the place where they are first to be milled or processed, or any other place from which they are to be transported to the place where they are to be milled or processed.

Source: Department of Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Backpackers, bushfires and Blazeaid

Backpackers will be granted ­special visa benefits to help rebuild homes, fences and farms in bushfire-ravaged communities under an overhaul of the working holidaymaker program aimed at fast-tracking reconstruction and boosting tourism.

Working holidaymakers will be able to claim volunteering as “specific work” towards securing second and third-year visas in a bid to encourage backpackers to move into 45 declared disaster zones across seven states and territories.

With more than 209,000 working holiday visas lodged in 2018-19, the government has acted on the visa changes following recommendations from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to help stimulate struggling regional economies impacted by fires.

The new visa policy will allow backpackers working in bushfire zones to remain with the same ­employer for one year, up from six months. The definition of ‘specific work’ has also been revised to ­ensure construction work in disaster areas is covered.

“This recovery will be driven ­locally, by local workers and communities. But this will be a massive recovery effort and we want businesses and charitable organisations to have as many boots on the ground as they need.”

BlazeAid president Kevin Butler, who has been pushing the government to change the visa rules, said he had been inundated with requests from backpackers to volunteer and support farmers. “We need young people with young muscles to do the hard yards. The bushfires hit hardest in some very rugged areas and these backpackers have the energy to do it,” he said.

“A lot of the backpackers are going up and down the coast and being turned away from jobs ­because of the drought and bushfires. This is an opportunity for them, and the farmers.

“We have 2500 farmers signed up to BlazeAid for the help these volunteers are providing. It’s just common sense and we should have done this a long time ago.

“It’s a great move by the Morrison government.”

Britain, France, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan feature prominently in the list of working holiday visas granted last year.

Bristol couple Grace Bishop and Finlay Roy, both 22, are on their first-year working holiday visa and want to volunteer in bushfire-hit regions. Ms Bishop, who has completed bushfire volunteer work, said they would take advantage of the new visa rules.

“We were a bit naive about bushfires when we started in Brisbane and we got caught up in the Tenterfield fires. We got caught again in NSW. So recently we ­volunteered in the Adelaide Hills,” she said.

“The people there were a bit surprised to see backpackers turn up and help, but I think they liked having outsiders. They could chat to us and rely on us, without any of the negativity there has been in some of the communities.

“We would definitely like to stay in Australia. And it would be amazing to go back and work on fence-building and things like that. These areas have been desolated and we want to help.”

In The Weekend Australian, bushfire recovery chief Andrew Colvin said critical infrastructure would need to be future-proofed against bushfire catastrophes following the destruction of power transmission lines, telecommunications and agricultural fences.

National Bushfire Recovery Agency data shows more than 2100 power poles in southeast NSW had been damaged or destroyed, as well as more than one million cubic tonnes of agricultural fencing lost across Australia.

Farming groups are concerned there are not enough fence posts produced in Australia each year to replace the 50 million destroyed.

German backpacker Lukas Weihrauch has moved to a Blaze­Aid camp in East Gippsland, where he is helping farmers ­rebuild fences and sheds.

“I saw a lot of the fires on TV and heard from people and thought: ‘This country has let me stay here, I want to contribute back’,” he said.

“Most of the time in Bruthen we are putting fences back up and helping farmers tie up their sheds. It’s very tough, very physical.”

Source. The Australian

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Lure of cities too strong for regional Australia to keep migrants, despite government efforts

The Government will come face-to-face with history when it launches its new regional migration visas in November.

Key points:

  • ANU researchers find newer migrant groups are even more likely to abandon regions
  • Regional visas are set to be launched next month to draw migrants away from cities
  • Proposed laws would give temporary regional migrants the same access to welfare as permanent migrants, but they would still need to work in order to stay permanently

Over four decades, country towns have mostly failed to retain migrants, according to the most comprehensive snapshot of Australian migration ever collated.

And this trend of migrants moving to the cities appears to be increasing, despite repeated government efforts to make life in the regions more appealing.

Professor James Raymer, who led a team of Australian National University (ANU) researchers to collect and refine almost 40 years of data, said migrants in a regional or remote area have a “very low chance” of staying in that area, and this pattern has been “very consistent over time”.

“Most will leave within a five-year period, over half, if not 70 per cent, will leave, and if they’re going to stay in Australia they’re going to go to one of the big cities, probably Sydney or Melbourne,” he said.

“What we actually see in the data, the chances of them leaving remote and regional areas has been increasing for a lot of the newer migrant groups.”

Same access to services

Immigration Minister David Coleman is confident the new visas will attract migrants to regional communities and keep them there.

“We want skilled migrants to settle in regional areas long-term and want to ensure they are not disadvantaged compared to permanent migrants in our major cities,” he said.

The visas require migrants to work in regions on temporary visas for three years before they are eligible for permanent residency.

Proposed laws will give these temporary visa holders the same access to welfare and government services as permanent visa holders.

“This Government will continue to back those migrants who commit to living and working in regional areas, to support local economies and contribute to regional communities,” Mr Coleman said.

Details of the visas are still emerging, as the Department of Home Affairs holds briefings with migration agents and lawyers around the country.

However, the Migration Institute of Australia has criticised the decision to require regional-based migrants to earn $53,900 a year in order to qualify for permanent residency.

“While the Government is telling regional Australia it is listening to concerns about skills shortages, they are going to make it as hard as possible to fill them,” institute president John Hourigan said.

The requirement to earn this level of income for three years is not reasonable given the already suppressed nature of rural economies struggling with drought and diminishing investment.

New glimpse of internal migration

The ANU data is the most comprehensive picture of regional migration ever collected in Australia.

Across 47 regions and 19 nationality groups, the project tracks who has moved where every year back to 1981.

It finds that regions in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have the lowest rates of retention of migrants.

Professor Raymer said his study also found that, for the most part, people were becoming increasingly settled.

“The likelihood of us moving in Australia has been decreasing, so we’re less likely to make moves across Australia these days as we were in the 1980s.”

ED: Surely this is why the only visa that can work is the one given to backpackers going from one end of the country to the other.

Comments please……

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow