Backpackers say they'd love to come to Queensland.
Backpackers say they'd love to come to Queensland.

BIG READ: Is it time to look at bringing backpackers back?

Farmers are staring down the barrel of burying crops, incentive schemes just aren't cutting it and backpackers say they're willing to foot the bill for their own quarantine. But it's not necessarily a simple solution.

Increased prices at the check-out are one of the ever-present concerns circling the agriculture industry in the wake of Covid-19 and a subsequent lack of labour.

Meanwhile, travel company Global Work & Travel announced the results of a report saying that 82 per cent of potential foreign workers would be willing to work on Australian farms right now and would be willing to foot the bill for their own quarantine costs.

Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers managing director Bree Grima said the agricultural industry was always a good match for foreign workers.

"The horticulture sector is heavily reliant on itinerant workers and due to the seasonal nature of our Industry this is well suited to those on working holiday maker visas. The industry is being crippled by the labour shortage and we need as many options on the table as possible," she said.

"With a reported 1100 workers leaving the country every week, we fear more agribusinesses will be forced to plough in crops or not plant in the coming months which may impact on consumer prices."

In November, the State Government shied away from giving a number for how many Australians had taken up a $1500 payment incentive to come work on the region's farms.

It was a move promoted by Treasurer Cameron Dick weeks before the 2020 state election that was praised by some growers and farming bodies wanting Australians to lace up their boots on farms.

While the Federal Government has also worked to secure Pacific workers for farms, the situation remains contentious.

Ms Grima said, at present, there were not enough workers to get crops away.

Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Bree Grima. Pic John Wilson
Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Bree Grima. Pic John Wilson

 

"Currently in the region melons, capsicums, citrus and avocados among others are being harvested and many more crops are being planted including strawberries and corn," she said.

" Given this region crops 52 weeks per year we therefore have year round labour needs.

We know we don't have enough workers to see these crops through from start to finish, so if workers are willing to fund their own quarantine costs, industry would welcome their arrival provided they meet all government regulations."

Ms Grima suggested multiple ways the situation could be improved.

"We need to further support the workers currently in the country, encourage those not working in the sector to consider a career in horticulture and look towards the future of welcoming back working holiday makers to replenish those that have completed their time and now wish to travel and spend their money which supports the regional economy," she said.

The report from Global Work & Travel found 100 per cent of potential visitors surveyed said they'd rather take a working holiday in Australia for one to two years than take a 10-day small-group holiday, with Queensland listed as the most desirable location.

Overseas workers say they're willing to foot the bill to come back.
Overseas workers say they're willing to foot the bill to come back.

 

The survey was conducted to gain an insight into the current sentiment among overseas youth travellers towards visiting Australia as restrictions begin to ease post-pandemic.

Global Work & Travel surveyed a sample of more than 500 overseas travellers who are booked and waiting to travel to Australia, ranging from 18 to 32-plus years located across Canada, USA and UK, including Scotland and Ireland, about their travel desires right now and intentions post Covid-19.

CEO and co-founder Jürgen Himmelmann said Global Work & Travel was seeing strong trends in overseas travellers enquiring and booking to come to Australia for a working holiday post-pandemic.

"On average we receive over 800 new enquiries per month from overseas travellers eager to book a working holiday to Australia," he said.

"Australia has fared relatively well during the pandemic compared to other countries, so it's no surprise we have a significant backlog of overseas working holiday makers booked, ready and waiting to arrive and get to work on struggling Australian farms, we just need the borders to open.

"Our agricultural industry partners, who traditionally rely on working holiday makers to harvest their seasonal crops, have expressed serious concerns about the future of their farms and are desperate to see travel borders open so they can reconnect with our seasonal staffing solutions."

Forty-two per cent of those surveyed said they would pay $2500 for compulsory hotel quarantine.

Marine and coastal experiences including scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing and visiting the Great Barrier Reef were nominated by 71 per cent of all respondents as one of their top travel experiences when they visit Australia.

Hinkler MP Keith Pitt says it’s a tough situation as many Aussies are still needing to get back home. Photo: AAP
Hinkler MP Keith Pitt says it’s a tough situation as many Aussies are still needing to get back home. Photo: AAP

 

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said there was a definite impact on foreign worker numbers in the wake of Covid-19.

"The latest figures show there were just over 44,600 working holiday makers in Australia," he said.

"There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the working holiday maker program.

"This reduction in numbers has had a flow-on effect to many sectors in the region including local growers, who are faced with a workforce shortage, as well as backpacker hostels and other businesses that are reliant on visitors to the region."

But Mr Pitt said there were still Australians who needed to come back home.

"While many industries are looking forward to a time when visitors can travel to Australia once more, we still have Australians overseas waiting to get home," he said.

"Decisions on reopening the border to certain groups of visa holders, including working holiday makers, must be based on expert health advice and balanced against the government's intent for imposing the travel ban and the health risks posed to the Australian community by international travellers."