Limited number of seasonal workers allowed to quarantine in WA hotels

Tongan workers approved but future pickers uncertain

UNCERTAINTY remains around seasonal workers being allowed entry into the state government's hotel quarantine system.

Despite the recent announcement that the Western Australian government will allow Tongan workers to fly into Western Australia in mid-May, the industry remains skeptical over the length of such allowances.

On April 14, it was announced that the hotel quarantine system in Western Australia did not have the capacity to accommodate workers that assist with the harvesting of our local horticulture.

The decision came after Chief Health Officer, Dr Andrew Robertson conducted a review of hotel quarantine arrangements, advising that several changes would need to occur in order to strengthen the regime for international arrivals.

VegetablesWA President Damir Kuzmicich originally said he was shocked by the announcement on April 14, urging the state government to find a workable solution that doesn't sacrifice local food processing and people's livelihoods.

Now, Mr Kuzmicich professed gratitude that the Western Australian Minister for Agriculture Alannah MacTiernan 'went into bat' for the Western Australian horticulture industry.

"We are so grateful to the Minister for her perseverance behind the scenes, working with the Department of Health, the Chief Health Officer and the Premier's office to secure the upcoming flight," Mr Kuzmicich said.

"The approval of flights into WA means that growers will be able to plan for their labour requirements for the rest of the year, which gives them the certainty to be able to produce and harvest their crops."

The Tonga flight will see 95 workers to Margaret River to support vineyards and six workers to support the citrus industry in Harvey.

Minister MacTiernan is working with the Minister for Health Roger Cook to find another Perth city hotel that meets quarantine requirements to ensure the safety of the Western Australian community.

The Bunbury Farmers Market Managing Director Kevin Opferkuch told the Mail that there hadn't been an immediate impact to the market, in regards to pricing of fruits and vegetables.

"Our smaller and medium sized growers are currently in the middle of apple season, but they're managing to hire enough locals to assist with their harvest," Mr Opferkuch said.

The market receives a supply of apples from orchards in Donnybrook and Manjimup, around 4000 apples per bin.

Mr Opferkuch added that the bigger growers who usually source workers from Vanuatu and Tonga had already adjusted to the perceived lack of workers by reducing their plantings of fruit and vegetables by half.

"The industry has been mindful of the issues around labour shortages since the beginning of COVID. There is definitely a price pressure, but at this point we're okay."

Mr Kuzmicich remains optimistic for two more planned flights of Tongan workers in June and July to be able to enter hotel quarantine.

"This is exactly the kind of information we need to be able to plan our crops."