Harvest labour questions over border closure

By Geoff Adams

Fruit growers relying on seasonal labour for their harvest are seeking clarification on the closure of the border between New South Wales and Victoria.

Tough new restrictions introduced on Tuesday night have cancelled all previous permits.

Farmers wanting staff to cross the border have to seek exemption as a critical service under the regulations.

NSW has recorded its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases in three months.

A border zone will be set up along the Murray River from midnight on Tuesday with all current travel permits to be cancelled.

Residents in the border zone who wish to move between the states will have to reapply, and if NSW residents travel into Victoria they will have to self-isolate for two weeks when they return.

Among the changed permit requirements, staff or students of boarding schools or universities must self-isolate for two weeks and obtain a negative swab before attending school, with cross-border travel only permitted for work, education, medical care, supplies or health services.

Victorian shadow agricultural minister Peter Walsh is calling on state leaders to get together to work out a solution to a looming labour shortage.

“Seasonal workers are critical to the timely picking and packing of fruit and vegetables,” Mr Walsh said.

“And the increased demand on available labour is placing significant pressure on businesses.

“The COVID crisis has also seen many overseas backpackers return home, and ongoing restrictions on international travel into Australia will mean no new overseas workers coming into our country.

“Border closures have hamstrung the movement of the seasonal labour workforce and our farmers’ ability to get their produce harvested on time.”

Mr Walsh said the request for the Victorian Agriculture Minister to convene an out-of-session Agriculture Ministers Council meeting must be acted on immediately.

“The coronavirus crisis continues to put massive pressure on our horticulture sector,” Mr Walsh said.