How the forced shutdown of Rainbow's pubs is affecting farming

How the forced shutdown of Rainbow's pubs is affecting farming

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SHEAR EXASPERATION: Royal Hotel Rainbow publican Owen Morley.

SHEAR EXASPERATION: Royal Hotel Rainbow publican Owen Morley.

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Publican Owen Morley speaks out.

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Like many regional Victorians, Rainbow's Owen Morley is worried about not knowing when he can reopen his business.

The Royal Hotel publican isn't just concerned about his own bottom line, but that of two of the regions main industries: cropping and livestock.

Mr Morley said truck drivers and shearing teams would not be able to stay at pubs like his during shearing and harvest in 2020 like they normally would.

He is worried that at the current rate of reopening planned for regional Victoria, there will not be enough accommodation available to house the workforce the region needs during this time.

"I've only been here for one harvest, but truck drivers, header drivers and shearing teams stay here," he said.

"There are other truck drivers that park in the rail yard and come here for tea and a shower. It's hay season now and there are contractors here now that used to stay here.

"If (the government) is talking November 23 to open with all the restrictions, I'm guessing we still won't be able to open up our accommodation, because pubs - and caravan parks - have to share their facilities like toilets and showers. Harvest will be going by then, so where is everyone going to stay? They can only stay at the motel."

Mr Morley's is one of two pubs in Rainbow, a town of just under 700 people. The other is the Eureka Hotel, also located on main thoroughfare Federal Street.

Under stage three restrictions, pubs can operate only as takeaways, bottleshop and accommodation providers. This will not change under the step two of restrictions easing which will begin in regional Victoria on Monday, while in the third step - which the regions could enter next week - sit down meals will be predominantly outdoors.

Regional Victoria will move to the last step of easing after November 23 when there are zero new cases in the community for more than 14 days. In this step, there will be caps on people inside pubs, and a density quotient outdoors.

Mr Morley has leased the pub since February 2019 and bought it outright in January. He has served takeaway meals in both phases of stage three restrictions and has staff on JobKeeper.

"My wife went to Horsham the other day to pick up some stuff, and she went into the plaza and dress and handbag shops are open. But you can't go to the pub, and when you eventually can, everyone has to sit down and we have to take every drink to them. It's just ridiculous."

Mr Morley said the solution was for restrictions to relax on pubs specifically.

"This area has not had one case at all, and the contractors are just farmers and they come from various areas from no cases," he said.

"We have a few workers from interstate, up the guts of New South Wales, but especially the hay and header blokes come from the western districts, because they go up north and work their way back, so by the time they get home their crops are ready (to harvest)."

NEW WORKING EXPERIENCE: Shearing contractor Jamie Morton, Penola.

NEW WORKING EXPERIENCE: Shearing contractor Jamie Morton, Penola.

Jamie Morton, of CJ Shearing in Penola, South Australia, leads shearing teams that work at Natimuk and Balmoral among other Wimmera areas.

"In Balmoral and Toolondo I've got some farmhouses we use (for accommodation), but up at Rainbow we usually stay at Owen's pub," he said.

"We've also stayed at the caravan parks in Edenhope and Natimuk. We just need more accommodation places available. There is already pressure on the motel in Rainbow with roadworks, but if you throw in grain harvesting and shearing, you're hardly going to keep up."

"There are probably half a dozen people per team. They come from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and last year we had some from WA as well."

Mr Morton said the agricultural workers' code announced by the federal government earlier this month would have a limited positive impact on the upcoming harvest. He said farmers would miss the New Zealand workers that normally joined shearing teams.

"The problem is every state and area is screaming out for shearers. People aren't going to travel as much now because they don't have the influx of shearers unless they have run out of sheep out of the area. It means locals will have to work longer to get all the work done." he said.

Mr Morton said the pandemic had prompted him to train up more people as shearers.

"Because the pubs aren't open, (Victorian) people with hospitality backgrounds are looking for a job, so we've been picking up a couple of them," he said.

Grain Producers seek to address predicted shortages

Grain Producers Australia has developed an online form with which farmers can register their workforce requirements.

The organisation's Rupanyup-based chairman, Andrew Weidemann, said there were major labour shortages expected for this coming harvest.

"Thousands of workers will be needed across the country for the upcoming grain harvest which is just weeks away. Working with companies that have staff that are currently stood down, like Qantas, is a way to help with the gap in labour availability," said Mr Weidemann.

Maddison McNeil, Grain Producers Australia Executive Officer said using the form would not guarantee staff, but increase the chances that someone will be interested in the opportunity.

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The story How the forced shutdown of Rainbow's pubs is affecting farming first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.

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