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    Western Australian to fly foreign fruit pickers in to help farmers during COVID-19

    Is there no one in Australia who can pick a mango? Hundreds of foreign workers to be flown in to harvest fruit amid fears of a nationwide food shortage

    • Two hundred people from Vanuatu and Timor-Leste will be flown to WA for work
    • An additional two hundred people already working in NT will also be flown to WA
    • Border closures have led to a shortage of backpackers for fruit picking jobs 

    Fruit pickers from Vanuatu and Timor-Leste will be flown into Australia after border restrictions locked out backpackers and locals turned their noses up at the laborious work.

    Up to 400 foreigners will quarantine in the Howard Springs facility in Northern Territory before being flown to Western Australia which has a shortage of workers. 

    International and state border closures have meant a shortage of Working Holiday Makers that agriculture relies on to do this work. 

    About 1,000 people were employed in fruit picking jobs before the coronavirus pandemic but a large portion of them were backpackers. 

    Fruit pickers for summer season fruits such as mangoes and papaya (pictured) are desperately needed in Australia due to international border closures

    WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan (pictured) revealed his would be up to 400 people

    WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan (pictured) revealed his would be up to 400 people

    The first group of workers would head to the Kimberley, in the state’s north, and could be sent as far south as Albany. 

    WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said community health and safety still remains the number one priority, and the best plan is to have people quarantine at the Howard Springs facility in the NT.

    ‘We have always made clear that our Government would throw everything at supporting industry to get this year’s harvest off,’ she said.

    ‘Our campaign has drawn real interest from local jobseekers and our priority will remain local workers. 

    ‘However, without further Federal Government action to incentivise those on JobSeeker to take up agricultural work, we are implementing further measures to support our growers.

    ‘With backpackers unable to come to Australia due to the Federal Government’s international border closures, allowing growers to access the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme will help to ensure we can fill critical labour shortages in our primary industries.’ 

    Some may even be forced to quarantine a second time after arriving in Western Australia. 

    John Shannon, chief executive of VegetablesWA, told the West Australian he welcomed the program and had been calling for it for two months. 

    Prior to COVID-19 restrictions there were around 1,000 people employed in fruit picking jobs (pictured) with a large portion of these employees being backpackers

    Prior to COVID-19 restrictions there were around 1,000 people employed in fruit picking jobs (pictured) with a large portion of these employees being backpackers 

    ‘Obviously time is of the essence and we have lost time, but the industry is grateful this is happening now rather than in a few months,’ he said.

    He stressed there may still be food shortages and high prices due to the staff shortage.  

    The WA Government last month announced the Work and Wander out Yonder campaign to try and convince students and school leavers into agricultural work.  

    Premier Mark McGowan has refused to open Western Australia’s borders to limit the spread of COVID-19.

    Mr McGowan remains adamant the borders won’t come down until the eastern states go 28 days with no community spread. 

    The state has not recorded a case of coronavirus in the community for 190 days, but still refuses to open up – even to other safe states such as the NT and SA.  

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