No action on harvest worker shortage frustrates peak industry body

Australia Custom Harvesters Association president Rod Gribble says up to 4000 more skilled harvest workers are needed in the country to avoid losing millions of dollars.
Australia Custom Harvesters Association president Rod Gribble says up to 4000 more skilled harvest workers are needed in the country to avoid losing millions of dollars.

The Australian Custom Harvesters Association has urged the government to work harder to solve the country's skilled worker shortfall crisis.

ACHA president Rod Gribble said up to 4000 extra skilled harvest machinery operators from overseas were needed to strip Australian crops this year.

Mr Gribble said his advocacy of the issue had fallen on deaf ears.

"They just need to pull their finger out and get on with it," he said."I've been in contact with Barnaby Joyce's office, with our local member Sussan Ley's office and haven't heard anything back from either of them.

"Quite frankly they've all put it in the 'too hard' basket or 'ignore it and it will go away' basket. It's pretty disgusting, actually."

Mr Gribble said it was frustrating when others had been allowed to travel nationally and internationally.

"If celebrities and sports people and business people can fly all around the bloody country, if football teams and all the rest can fly all around the countryside," he said.

"Surely they can work out a way to get two or three or four thousand skilled people in there so we can provide food for the wider community.

"I think there's a higher priority on food than watching bloody football on TV."

Mr Gribble said pre-pandemic Australia had relied on northern hemisphere professional contract harvesters working down under in their off season, but that option was now limited.

He said a recent Association survey found more than 70 per cent of members received no response after advertising for workers for months.

"I rang people today and it's still a massive shortfall," he said.

Mr Gribble said without overseas workers, machinery would sit unused in sheds, leaving owners to manage costly repayments and insurance, while farmers would risk not getting their crop off in time, especially if the forecast wet season degraded their grain.

"The lack of money for contractors and potential risk for growers from downgrading quality of grain is multitudes of millions of dollars," he said.

"That will run through not only their private businesses, but their towns, and the wider community and Australia in general."

Mr Gribble said he wanted to see fully vaccinated workers, receive timely negative tests and isolate on farm.