Tue. May 24th, 2022

Canberra has made an urgent appeal to foreign backpackers to help the staff of Australia’s farms, shops and restaurants after a crippling labor shortage forced shops and suppressed the fresh fruit and meat supply.

The invitation marks a striking turnaround for Australia. The government sealed its borders almost two years ago to protect the country from the coronavirus pandemic, with many Australian citizens stranded abroad for months.

The strict border policies the farming industry hit particularly hard. The industry has historically relied on backpackers, who make up about 80 percent of the 40,000 strong seasonal workforce.

When border restrictions were lifted for vaccinated travelers in December, “there was a cry of joy and enjoyment from the industry,” Ben Rogers told the National Farmers’ Federation. “It was really welcome news.”

But the joy was short-lived. The rapid spread of Omicron led to a labor shortage affecting farms, supermarkets, restaurants and bars. The Australian Retailers Association said up to half of the country’s shop workers had to be isolated this month, forcing some shops to reduce working hours and others to close.

The labor crisis has grown so acute that Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week proposed that teens be allowed to drive forklifts to alleviate worker shortages in the logistics industry. The plan was rejected almost immediately.

Another proposal raised by David Williams, a veteran trader in agriculture and consumer goods, called for asylum seekers stuck in hotels and detention centers to work on farms and harvest fruits and vegetables.

Supplies of citrus fruits, grapes and apples are among the worst affected by the shortage. “There was also a lot of anxiety about avocados,” Rogers added.

Morrison said 23,500 young foreigners received work holiday visas, but the number of backpackers flying into the country is still low.

“We want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here in Australia. . . and at the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labor, ”the prime minister said.

The seriousness of Canberra’s fate was underlined by an A $ 3m ($ 2.2m) grant to Tourism Australia to target backpackers and students with a new marketing campaign. The government has also promised to refund any visa application fees for backpackers and students arriving within the next 12 weeks at a cost of A $ 55m.

Backpackers must spend 88 days on a farm to qualify for a visa.

The government on Thursday released data revealing that unemployment fell to 4.2 percent in December, the lowest level since 2008.

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