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Queensland warns of soaring prices unless labour shortage is addressed

The Bowen region usually sees around 3,500 overseas workers migrate each year to pick crops.

Queensland’s health authorities need to take a leaf out of Victoria’s book and subsidise extra farm work, or its likely vegetable and fruit prices will shoot through the roof according to Bowen’s fruit and vegetable growers.

In a warning to Queensland Health, Bowen Chamber of Commerce president Bruce Hedditch said the department needed to deal with the labour shortage facing farmers – either through encouraging Australians to sign up, or by allowing overseas workers to travel for work once again – or there could be disastrous consequences.

“Farmers are contemplating not even planting crops in 2021,” Hedditch said, according to Courier Mail.

“We know Victoria has received a large number of Pacific Islanders to work on their farms and this has been achieved through an agreement with the Tasmanian Government, where workers undertook 14-day quarantine periods in that state.”

In February, Victoria announced it would put almost $20 million into a scheme to cover the quarantine costs of Pacific Islander workers travelling to work in the state’s fruit and vegetable picking industry.

And, a cash bonus of almost $2500 was announced for Victorians – should they agree to pick fruit for eight weeks.

The Bowen region usually sees around 3,500 overseas workers migrate each year to pick crops.

Should a lack of workers continue into the picking season, Hedditch said a kilo of tomatoes could see prices soar as high as $30 to $50 a kilo, based on the level of labour involved in getting it from the stem to supermarket.

Hedditch also said the Chamber has prepared plans to properly quarantine overseas workers, but has been unable to get in touch with bureaucrats in Queensland Health in order to set the plans in motion.

“We can’t get answers here. It’s insane,” Hedditch said.

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