WA government gives green light for Tongan seasonal workers

The WA Government has given the green light for a charter flight of 150 Tongan workers to arrive in WA in late May to help ease the state's horticulture and hospitality worker squeeze.

It comes less than a week after the Chief Health Officer denied an application for a flight of Ni Vanuatu workers to arrive in Perth on May 7, citing a lack of quarantine capacity.

While the State Government is yet to determine exactly where the workers will be quarantined when they arrive next month, Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan this week confirmed one option under consideration is using previously decommissioned quarantine accommodation.

While workers will be sent to locations such as Carnarvon to assist the table grape harvest, Gingin for berry picking and Harvey in the South West for the citrus season, the majority will be sent to prune grapevines in the South West.

Industry relieved
Margaret River Wine Industry Association chief executive Amanda Whiteland said she was relieved that experienced workers were arriving as planned.

Growers welcome greater 'certainty'
Industry body Vegetables WA, which slammed the government for blocking the planned May 7 flight last week, welcomed the decision to allow the later May flight into WA.

President Damir Kuzmicich said the industry had been told it could be optimistic that future charter flights earmarked to arrive throughout June and July would proceed. "We are hoping for two more flights from Vanuatu in June and early July, and this is exactly the kind of information we need to be able to plant our crops," he said.

"The approval of flights into WA means that growers will be able to plan for their labour requirements for the rest of the year, which gives them the certainty to be able to produce and harvest their crops."
Earlier this month, an independent review of WA's hotel quarantine system recommended a tightening up of ventilation standards in dedicated quarantine hotels.

Ms MacTiernan said those recommendations had meant accommodation previously used to quarantine workers was no longer available because the government needed it to isolate returning Australians.

Government mulls quarantine sites
She said the government was now considering a quarantine system that could accommodate seasonal workers and enable the government to continue to meet its agreed number of international arrivals by using decommissioned hotels.

"They [the workers] won't be accommodated at the Four Points hotel, which was the one we needed to hand back because of the increased requirements," Ms MacTiernan said.

Premier Mark McGowan said the government would not be employing a two-tiered system for low and high-risk arrivals as flagged by Ms MacTiernan.

However, he said his government recognised that Pacific Island workers presented a lower risk than arrivals from other international locations and was considering its options. 

For more information: ausveg.com.au

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