Army of retrenched residents could fill vineyard roles

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
There will be a shortage of wine pruners this year due to the COVID-19 crisis
Camera IconThere will be a shortage of wine pruners this year due to the COVID-19 crisis Credit: Mogens Johansen/WA News, Mogens Johansen

Wineries and labour hire companies could recruit out-of-work locals to save the Margaret River wine industry in coming months.

The Margaret River Wine Association said on Monday vintage was nearly finished for most of the region’s vineyards but travel restrictions imperilled this year’s pruning operations, slated to start in May.

“We understand a very large number of workers in the Margaret River and surrounding areas are currently suffering from the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 and looking for alternative employment opportunities,” MRWA chief executive Amanda Whiteland said. “The MRWA has been in contact with our local labour hire members.

“We have been advised that they have the necessary staff to complete the 2020 harvest, but will be requiring staff for the winter pruning season which normally commences at the end of May.”

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A lack of backpackers meant there would be big shortfalls for this season’s work.

“It is understood that over 450 people are employed for the pruning season in the Margaret River wine region,” Ms Whiteland said.

AHA Viticulture, Down to Earth, Labour Solutions and Vinepower were among the firms behind the recruitment drive.

“We are really looking forward to employing locals during pruning 2020,” Vinepower operator David Rankin said, pointing out travel restrictions would prevent backpackers and pacific seasonal workers taking part.

“I have discussed pruning with numerous people and some are also looking forward to learning about the industry and having some form of relationship with it whilst they wait to return to their normal employment,” he said.

The travel restrictions will prevent the backpackers and Pacific seasonal workers from coming over and will therefore create numerous pruning positions becoming available for locals.

“Pruning is a skill, so we are hoping that numerous local pruners from this year will be further interested in pruning in 2021.”

Some of the travellers and backpackers left stranded by a lack of international flights might also flock to vineyards for work, but with astonishing job losses in the hospitality and tourism sectors, the vineyard work could be a valuable lifeline.

The Times understands at least one major winery was working to redeploy retrenched casuals as vineyard workers this season.

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