Citrus Australia has asked Victorian Premier Dan Andrews to appoint a commissioner of horticultural labor and accommodation to manage solutions to a current horticulture crisis. Nathan Hancock, Citrus Australia’s chief executive officer, said extreme shortages in both labor and housing will get worse without direct intervention.
“These issues (labor and housing shortages) are having a significant impact on the current and future viability of fresh food production in this state, the mental health of horticultural growers, and the economic prosperity of the regions surrounding Mildura, Robinvale, Shepparton and Cobram,” Hancock said. “The citrus industry alone in Victoria is valued at $230 million.”
Hancock said there was a significant shortage of housing available across the country, with citrus-growing regions some of the hardest hit. “The lack of accommodation is the biggest barrier preventing skilled workers moving to these regions, and seasonal workers being able to stay safe and comfortable whilst working during seasonal harvest periods,” he said. “A commissioner could be the lead to work with the federal government in developing a stimulus package that enables private investment in a wide range of accommodation types, including large-scale facilities for seasonal workers … hostels in towns and short-term rental properties.”
Hancock added: “After consultation with Victorian local councils, it is apparent there are ongoing difficulties between state and local governments, whereby legislation does not appear to align, making the construction or establishment of seasonal worker accommodation on farms almost impossible.”
Hancock pointed to Mildura as an example, saying the permit required for growers to build on-farm accommodation does not allow portability between neighboring farms or allow growers to recoup their costs through charging rent. “A farm worker living in on-farm accommodation can only work on that farm, so on days or weeks where there is no work on the farm the worker cannot seek work on other nearby farms without moving out of their accommodation,” he said. “In horticulture, these breaks in employment happen frequently due to weather events or delays in ripening, for example. These regulations are directly impacting worker welfare and must be addressed. This has been an ongoing problem for years, and a commissioner with an agency for change could correct this.”
Source: Citrus Australia