Guides to managing COVID-19 in the packing shed and orchard
General information and food safety
There are many great resources being provided by various organisations inside and outside horticulture with recommendations on how to deal with COVID-19.
The ARC Training Centre for Food Safety in the Fresh Produce Industry has released information on fresh produce safety and COVID-19 positive workers in processing facilities. Key points are:
- COVID-19 is unlikely to be passed on through fresh produce
- There is a low risk of contracting COVID-19 from fresh produce if handled by a worker who is confirmed positive for COVID-19
- Immediately notify the health department if a worker in the facility tests positive for COVID-19
- Increase contact time and/or concentration of disinfectants on surfaces in the processing environment
Here are some links:
- Trade insights and updates during COVID-19. Hort Innovation's international trade hub is here to deliver essential information and insights to the Australian horticulture sector as we progress through and beyond the global COVID-19 situation
- Fresh produce safety and COVID-19 positive workers in processing facilities: key points for industry
- The NFF has released the first edition of its COVID-19 Workplace Guide to coincide with the announcement of visa extensions by the Federal Government. The Guide outlines best practice guidance regarding living and working arrangements for farm workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. A copy of the Guide can be found here.
- Hort Innovation have established a COVID-19 information for horticulture participants on their website. The links to various resources are intended to help growers and others in the horticulture industry keep up to date with trusted information in these unusual times – particularly news and updates relating to continuing to operate. They will be updating this page with further advice and links as they become available.
- Australian Department of Health: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources
- Freshcare: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources
- Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University: The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Food Industry Resources and FAQs
- New Zealand Food Safety Science Research Centre
- NZ MPI: Coronavirus and Food Safety on COVID-19
COVID-19: What the changes mean for workers from the National Harvest Labour Information Service
Rules differ between state and territory borders. However the main message remains the same - stay home!
People are required to stay at home unless they are:
• going to work or education (if unable to do so at home)
• shopping for essential supplies such as groceries, then return home without delay
• going out for personal exercise in the neighbourhood, on your own or with one other
• attending medical appointments or compassionate visits.
These requirements apply to backpackers as well as Australian residents.
Travel for work
While it sounds simple that travel for work is allowed, what happens if that travel involves moving from one state to another?
State borders closed
A number of states have effectively closed their borders, making it very difficult for people to enter from other states. However agriculture workers are deemed to be essential workers and can move between states provided certain protocols are complied with.
Many growers believe that workers travelling from interstate need to self quarantine for 14 days prior to travelling, however this is not the case as long as they comply with state requirements. Some are implementing their own protocols which may involve self-quarantine for workers when they arrive on farms or in nearby towns.
How can workers travel interstate?
If you have workers that need to travel interstate to commence work on your farm, you should ensure that they adhere to all state and Commonwealth requirements. Details are constantly changing so it is important to check with the Commonwealth Department of Health and each state health department before you ask any workers to travel anywhere, either interstate or even within states.
Some of the basic requirements to enter each state
NSW, Victoria and ACT
No border restrictions exist for people traveling from any state or territory into NSW, Victoria or the ACT. However the requirement to restrict unnecessary travel applies. If you have offered workers a job it is advisable for them to have a copy of the confirmed job offer and accommodation arrangements when they travel.
Travel and transport advice NSW
- Covid-19 Visa declaration
- Covid-19 New measures for temporary visa holders
- Accommodating seasonal workers during Covid-19
- Transport of seasonal workers during Covid-19
- Self isolation guide for agribusiness employers
- Self isolation guide for agribusiness employees
Strict border controls apply in the Northern Territory for all access points by road and air. Non-essential travellers arriving at a Northern Territory border must complete 14 days of forced quarantine.
Horticulture workers who have a confirmed job offer are deemed as essential travellers and thus will be exempt from these requirements. Your workers must be able to prove their status as an essential traveller before they will be granted an exemption from self-quarantine.
NT Border control
The Tasmanian Government has declared a State of Emergency and tough border restrictions are in place. All travellers arriving in Tasmania will be required to enter self-isolate for 14 days in government-provided accommodation on arrival in Tasmania.
Only people who are approved by the State Controller as Essential Travellers will be exempt. Horticulture workers who have a confirmed job offer should be exempt from some of these requirements, but may still have to self isolate for 14 days before commencing work.
Important Information for Travellers
Restrictions on non-essential travel apply for anyone arriving in South Australia. Workers will potentially need to self-isolate for 14 days. Checkpoints are established at 12 locations along the border as well as airports. Travellers will be required to sign a declaration about their health and ability to self-isolate for 14 days. Essential travellers include horticulture workers and they should be exempt from some of these requirements.
Cross border travel SA
Western Australia has introduced restrictions on non-essential travel. Anyone arriving in Western Australia will need to self-isolate for 14 days. Checkpoints have been established along the border, as well as airports, seaports and interstate train stations. Travellers will be required to sign a declaration about their health, and their ability to self-isolate for 14 days. Travel within WA is also restricted for non-essential travellers. Essential travellers include health workers, freight delivery, emergency services and some horticulture workers who may be exempt from some of the restrictions.
Advice on traveling to and around Western Australia
Significant restrictions on non-essential travel have been introduced in Queensland. Border checkpoints have been established along major highways and at airports. Only residents and people who are exempt will be allowed to enter Queensland. Horticulture workers should be exempt but will only be allowed to cross the border if they hold a border pass, have a confirmed letter of employment, and the employer has lodged a health plan with Queensland Health. Travellers entering Queensland from a designated COVID-19 hotspot may face additional restrictions. Anyone who is not a resident or does not hold a border pass will not be allowed to enter Queensland.
Border restrictions QLD
The introduction of widespread social distancing rules has resulted in many hostels limiting the number of people that can stay. Some are not accepting new guests and many caravan parks are closed, making it hard to find accommodation in lots of rural towns. So if you are bringing in workers from intra or interstate, make sure that suitable accommodation is available for them when they arrive.
The issue of accommodation for workers should not be underrated. While workers have traditionally managed to find their own accommodation in hostels and caravan parks, this cannot be guaranteed anymore and growers may need to provide more on farm accommodation. Some growers are already doing this by sourcing some of the many unused camper vans that are parked in yards around Australia. Attractive rental rates are on offer from these companies.
Visa condition changes
If you are employing anyone on a Working Holiday Visa (417 or 462) the good news is they are able to extend their visa by 12 months, even if they haven’t completed the 3 or 6 months of specified work required to apply for a second or third Working Holidaymaker visa.
Looking for agriculture work?
While many other industries have either shut down or are operating at reduced capacity, agriculture is basically operating as normal, with large numbers of people still needed to pick and pack fruit and vegetables. However due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, many people who already have casual horticulture jobs are electing to continue working and thus there are few new job vacancies at the moment.
So if you are contacted by people looking for work, please ask them NOT TO TRAVEL TO ANY REGIONAL AREAS UNLESS THEY HAVE A CONFIRMED JOB TO GO TO. Rural communities do not want people arriving in their towns without a job and there is limited accommodation. People looking for horticulture work can get up-to-date information on all aspects of harvest jobs by contacting National Harvest Labour – 1800 062 332 or harvesttrail.gov.au. If you are looking for harvest workers our call centre consultants can assist with finding suitable people. This is a free service.
It is a challenging time for everyone and restrictions are constantly changing. The most important thing to do is stay up to date. The NFF have an excellent website.
The International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM)
The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment has asked that the following advice be shared with all exporters of agricultural goods.
It is recommended exporters send all their physical export documents, including government-issued phytosanitary and health certificates, with their consignments.
Disruptions to air and courier services due to the COVID-19 crisis are delaying the delivery of airmail. Including export documents with consignments will avoid delays between the arrival of goods in export markets and the arrival of documents sent via airmail.
On 24 April, Tim Beresford, Deputy CEO Austrade and Michael Byrne, the IFAM Co-Ordinator General held an information session for exporters. The session covered the aim and objectives of IFAM, how it works and provided answers to questions submitted by participants.
A recording of this briefing is available on the Austrade website.