August 12 was a special day for many farmers in the Top End. Over 160 seasonal workers left quarantine after arriving from Vanuatu 14 days ago.
These desperately needed workers will start working immediately on mango farms in Darwin and in a few months time they will commence work on farms in Katherine.
Next week, another flight from Samoa carrying a further 216 workers will arrive into Darwin.
Many of the workers will work on farms throughout the Territory while others will contribute to additional industries such as hospitality and aged care.
NT Farmers organized and funded the flights to support mango farmers and the wider Territory economy.
Until only a few weeks ago, the industry was facing a catastrophe due to a lack of workers. For mango farmers, an entire year's worth of work and significant investment depends on a reliable and secure workforce for only a few weeks at harvest time.
Last year NT Farmers undertook lengthy negotiations and planning with all layers of Territory, Commonwealth and international governments to secure workers for our economy.
This year it has taken nearly 12 months of the same work to secure a further two more flights.
It is disappointing that nearly two years since COVID-19 first impacted our lives, Commonwealth and Territory governments have not established a pathway to safely reopen and bring a workforce in.
All industries, including agriculture simply cannot continue to operate under extreme uncertainty regarding basic business decisions. Industry desperately needs a safe pathway to bring workers into the country.
Firstly, improving our vaccination rate is a critical component - every Territorian has a responsibility to vaccinate now. We simply must get our vaccination rate up to 80 per cent.
A potential pathway option for industry is to create fully vaccinated workplace bubbles.
Fully vaccinated workers from interstate or overseas could travel and work at our vaccinated farms. Strict testing, social distancing and travel limits could be enforced to ensure the health of workers and our communities.
Only after completing the required quarantine period and passing negative tests, should workers and farmers be allowed to enter the community.
Once the Territory achieves its 80 per cent vaccination rate, vaccinated travelers from interstate should be able to freely travel to the Territory.
With the collaborative support of industry and government, this pathway could be a viable and successful option for farmers and the economy.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is now part of our modern life however, it is imperative that governments effectively create safe solutions for us all to live with this pandemic. Safely managed workplace bubbles could be one solution to the workforce crisis.
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