‘Find workers from overseas’

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Cape Mentelle
PIC : Derek Pool
Camera IconVines Cape Mentelle PIC : Derek Pool Credit: Derek Pool

Capes Liberal and Nationals MPs are calling for urgent action from the State Government to counter an expected significant shortfall of vineyard workers for next year’s vintage and more support for agriculture across WA.

Margaret River-based shadow agriculture minister Steve Thomas has demanded that the Premier consider following the Federal Government’s lead and offer a lifeline to Pacific Island workers seen as crucial to fill the workforce gap.

“Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has asked the States to step up and negotiate a similar agreement, and I want the State Government to start now in order to protect our agricultural sector,” Dr Thomas said.

“I have already been approached by Margaret River vineyard owners and vine contractors wondering where their workforce is coming from for next year’s harvest.

“This issue cannot wait. It has to be addressed now to give these producers certainty, or we may see fruit rotting on the vine here in 2021.

“Naturally, we would all like to see these jobs filled by local West Australians. But history has taught us that producers have never been able to achieve this in the past, and it is unlikely that they will be able to do it now.

“So now is the time for the State to provide a way forward and deliver certainty to industry.”

Member for Warren-Blackwood Terry Redman wants a State Government-formed industry task force to plan for the shortfall.

“This is a quandary that needs input from industry and health advisers to determine a workable solution because a crisis is just around the corner,” he said.

“Many in the community believe local displaced workers should take up these jobs, but the reality is that this is not happening.”

“There are a range of issues that need some analysis, including isolat-ed locations, JobSeeker payments, availability of accommodation, and pay rates.”

While neither MP wanted to undermine WA’s border safeguards, they said action was crucial.

Earlier this year, the Times reported concerns about the 2021 vintage due to a lack of willing local workers, with fears many would remain on JobSeeker despite the phased decrease in COVID-19 support.

Agricultural and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Government was clear international labour not would be a solution while crucial border safeguards were in place to protect residents. “Our priority is to mobilise WA workers,” she said.

Ms MacTiernan said an estimated 5000 backpackers and seasonal workers remained in WA and the Government-funded Jobs in WA Food and Ag program had surged, with 11,000 jobseekers registered.

“We will soon be launching a campaign aimed at encouraging more West Australians to take up employment opportunities in regional WA,” she said.

“We are also looking at a range of incentives such as travel and accommodation allowances to encourage WA workers to take up agricultural jobs in the regions.”

Shire president Ian Earl acknowledged the next vintage “could be a very real problem to us come harvest”.

“I would be very happy to see special rules in place to allow migrant workers in,” he said.

“They would need to do the minimum two weeks of isolation. I believe that this has already happened in the Northern Territory. It’s good for them and good for us.”

Margaret River Wine Association chief executive Amanda Whiteland said Wines of WA and national body Australia Grape and Wine were working to understand the likely labour gaps.

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