New travel process calms border confusion

New NSW Agricultural Worker Permits should end months of confusion

Coronavirus
FURSTRATING TIMES: The frustration factor has been off the Richter scale, says VFF Grains president Ash Fraser.

FURSTRATING TIMES: The frustration factor has been off the Richter scale, says VFF Grains president Ash Fraser.

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New Agricultural Worker Permits for NSW now in effect.

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Victorian contractors say they are hoping the NSW government's adoption of the new Agricultural Workers Code will ease months of permit frustration and confusion.

The new code, described as offering a simpler alternative to cross the NSW-Victorian border, came into force late last week.

Public Health Orders have been amended to drop the requirement for agricultural workers to wait for up to five days for approval of registration.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the code would allow the critical free movement of workers across state borders.

"Our farmers have just come out of the worst drought on record, and they are now poised to begin their recovery with the largest winter crop harvest since 2016, and they need the workforce to take advantage of that," Mr Marshall said.

Donna Cook, Homestead Shearing Contractors, Hamilton, has a team at Oxley, NSW, and said applying for the new permit was much easier.

"There are still the safety protocols but that's nothing compared to what we have already been doing," Ms Cook said.

"The process is good.

"You just log on online, you say where the employee is from and where they are going, and that they haven't been near any coronavirus hot spots, and they pretty much email it to you straight away."

She said it appeared Service NSW had come full circle.

"This is exactly what happened at the beginning but they kept changing the rules all the time," she said.

"It's taken a long time to get to what they should have done in the first place."

At one stage, she had four different types of permit.

"It's just been an absolute nightmare," she said.

"I have had to put farmers off because I haven't been able to get shearers into NSW."

Under the new system, agricultural workers travelling between NSW and Victoria will need a permit and relevant identification and will be required to use Personal Protective Equipment as appropriate.

Travelling workers will also need to keep records of their movements.

Agricultural employers need to support workers to perform self isolation in the first 14 days after entry into NSW, and must have a COVID safety plan in place.

Harvest contractors and shearers have expressed deep frustration about the confusion over constantly changing rules; at one stage Victorians were being told to travel through Sydney, despite having properties just over the Murray River.

Victorian Grains Group chairman Ash Fraser sounded a note of caution.

"Calling it easy is probably not the right term but there is now an option to work around, to get across the border and into NSW, outside that 100-kilometre radius," Mr Fraser said.

He had been told there were plans to make old permits transferable.

But he urged contractors and farmers to get one of the new permits.

"Given my experience, I would make sure you are definitely compliant, so you don't have any issues going across the border," he said.

"Because it's so new, we're yet to see what the teething issues may or may not be; it will take another week or so."

He said people should not be blamed for being sceptical, given the complexities of previous permits.

"The frustration factor has been off the Richter scale," he said.

Shearer shortages

Ms Cook said she had started work in a 14 stand shed, with only six shearers.

"I have had to have four different types of permits."

She said she'd also been told she would have to go through Sydney, to get to the property where the team was working.

"We have come from Hamilton, where there have no cases at all, and it's 650kms up here, but then they wanted me to go to a hot spot and travel 2600km - it's ridiculous," she said.

"That would have taken 40 odd hours, just to get to damned work; the sheep have to be shorn, and we only have that short opportunity, when they need to be done."

She said she was running two teams, with 60 shearers and ancillary staff, between them.

As recently as last week, Echuca -based contractor, Mick Finlay, Mercon Harvesting, said the permit system had got harder.

"We put an application in as a business which was supposed to be reviewed in five days, it was previously 24 hours, and 10 days later we still haven't got our permit," Mr Finlay said .

"As it stands at the moment it's worse than it was before , they still want us to quarantine in Sydney."

He said he'd been told by the Department of Primary Industries Mercon was on the list.

"But Services NSW are making it extremely difficult for even them to get rural permits through , and even if they are approved we are given a five day window, in which we are to move all our equipment and then we have to start the application all over again"

Denliquin, NSW contractor Coel Johnson said he had tried to take up a job at Serpentine, in northern Victoria, but had found it too difficult.

He is in the 100km border bubble, but where he wanted to go was just outside the limits.

"Without the pass, we can't go out of this bubble, but Serpentine is only 20km out of the bubble.

"We can't go there to shear without getting this other permit, and that takes five or six days, and I don't know whether we will get it, or not.

"It's bloody hard, I tell you.

I was hoping to start last week, we couldn't get these forms put through.

"Blokes have to come home, and self isolate, when they are not at work - no-one wants to do that, that makes it hard to get blokes to go down there."

"You can go to Echuca, on a permit, where you can meet people from Bendigo and have lunch, "It's silly."

.He said he had been asked to shear 6000 sheep and had a team of 12-13 workers, ready to go.

"I am trying to get someone down that way, to do it, but as it is, they are all flat out, because a lot of the New Zealanders can't come over at the moment."

Victorians were allowed to go to work, when they were in NSW.

"But they are not allowed to go to the pub, or go out for tea, or weddings - so a lot of them are like 'no, I'm not going and doing that."

Shearing contractor Darren Hall, Finley, NSW said it was a "total schemozzle,"

"I put up for that critical worker permit two weeks ago, I've just got an email now with approval, but I have to fill out a template, which will mean another three weeks, by the time that's done.

"And by then the rules will have changed again.

"We are using border resident permits, again, that's our only hope."

Mr Hall said he had shearers, living in his quarters, full time.

"If I didn't I'd be screwed - that's the only thing that saves me."

He said he could go anywhere in NSW, but could only go 100kms south of the border.

"We are getting the sheep trucked to a shearing shed in Victoria, at the moment."

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