SEASONAL workers arriving from the Pacific Islands for SA's citrus harvest will quarantine at a new facility in the Riverland, as part of Commonwealth Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme efforts to combat the sector's labour shortages.
It is the "second best" outcome for the industry, Citrus SA's Mark Doecke says, with a travel bubble between Australia and the Pacific Islands being the preferred direction.
Up to 1200 workers will be able to arrive under the scheme and stay at the Paringa facility.
For the next three months, arrivals are expected every 14 days, but growers will pay the $2500 quarantine bill for each worker.
"It is an expensive way to get labour and it would be preferred if they could arrive freely without quarantine," Mr Doecke said.
"Fiji has had 300 days free from COVID cases - the risk is so low," he said.
"There are probably 20,000 islanders vetted and ready to fly to work in many sectors."
The seasonal workers will be transported directly to the facility to quarantine before being able to undertake work and Mr Doecke said so far, the community was on board with the scheme.
"The region relies on these workers to pick fruit and pack each year. In the case of citrus, we always have about 1000 Pacific Island workers during harvest," he said.
Mr Doecke said it would help ease the pressure caused by labour shortages, and he believed most growers would get crops harvested in time.
"The industry only just got through last harvest. So, the program has offered security for growers and should cover us for this year," he said.
Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister David Basham said the state government had worked closely with SA Health and SA Police to ensure the facility met strict safety standards.
Workers will undergo COVID-19 testing on arrival, as well as on day five and 12 of quarantine.
"SA's primary industries are worth $14.1 billion a year to the state economy and with citrus season fast approaching, it is critical we deliver a safe solution to fill our seasonal worker shortages to ensure our state's crops are harvested," Mr Basham said.
"We know that many Pacific nations have seen low case numbers of COVID-19, but protecting the wider community from any risk has been at the forefront of our planning.
"I know the stress that industry has been facing as the citrus harvest draws closer, and I am pleased that through dedication and hard work we have been able to map out a safe pathway forward to bring in seasonal workers."
About 100 workers from Vanuatu arrived in January and completed quarantine at an Adelaide medi-hotel, Mr Basham said, while the new scheme caters for six groups of 216 workers at a time.
"Our preference has always been for locals to fill these jobs but we have reached a critical time where we need a seasonal workforce to support the industry," Mr Basham said.
Horticultural Coalition of SA chair Angelo Demasi agreed and hoped Australians would take up the opportunity to work in the regions, rather than growers having to "foot the bill" to bring in seasonal workers from overseas.
"That would be the preferred outcome but we have tried extensively to achieve this," he said.
"The cost will be a challenge and it is not a sustainable for entire season, but it will solve the labour shortage."
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