WA broccolini grower may have to plough nearly half of his crop after seasonal worker flight cancelled

Jacinta Cantatore & Shannon VerhagenCountryman
Myalup brocollini farmers Graham, Mia and Matthew Rose need more workers for harvest after a flight which would have brought 12 over was cancelled.
Camera IconMyalup brocollini farmers Graham, Mia and Matthew Rose need more workers for harvest after a flight which would have brought 12 over was cancelled.

News the State Government will try to reschedule travel for the 150 Pacific workers who had their flight cancelled last week amid changes to the State’s hotel quarantine system has provided little solace to Myalup broccolini grower Graham Rose.

Discussions are under way to determine the logistics, with one possibility being spreading them across a number of flights planned for June and July.

It means it could be several weeks, if not months before the 12 workers Mr Rose had secured for harvest touch down on WA soil.

And after planting 30 per cent more this year with the knowledge and security the extra workers were coming in, Mr Rose — who operates Rose Farms WA with his wife Mia and their son Matthew — says it is time they can’t afford.

We are now looking at ploughing in about 40 per cent of our next crop.

Graham Rose

The flight of Pacific labour scheme and seasonal labour program workers — due in on May 7 from Vanuatu — was cancelled after changes to the system meant there was no capacity for them in WA quarantine hotels.

However on Tuesday WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan confirmed they would set up a new quarantine hotel for farm workers and look to reschedule travel for workers on the cancelled flight.

WA Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan. : Ian Munro The West Australian 22/03/21
Camera IconWA Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan. : Ian Munro The West Australian 22/03/21 Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian, Ian Munro

But Mr Rose said the announcement was of little help to him, anticipating the earliest they could arrive would be on a June flight, weeks after they needed them.

“We’re not looking at the arrival of those people until the last week of June, by the time they finish their quarantine and do their three-day orientation,” Mr Rose said.

“Then we’ve had a month of production where we don’t pick.”

We’re trying to scour the countryside for anyone across the country working in a seasonal role that might be at the end of their stint where they are and could replace the workers on the plane.

Graham Rose

He also said there was no guarantee they would manage to get a seat on one of the June flights, which are not replacement flights, which he believed were already “oversubscribed”.

“I don’t know who’s going to have priority on the seats,” Mr Rose said. “How do you get two lots of 130-160 people on one flight.”

“Somewhere there’s going to be a double-up, where one plane keeps bumping another backwards.”

Myalup brocollini farmers Graham and Mia Rose need more workers for harvest after a flight which would have brought 12 over was cancelled.
Camera IconMyalup brocollini farmers Graham and Mia Rose need more workers for harvest after a flight which would have brought 12 over was cancelled. Credit: Picture: Shannon Verhagen

The family farmers have been operating on a skeleton crew of 22 Vanuatuan workers they sourced through a labour hire company in January.

But with harvest looming, the family was relying on those 12 workers being on the ground.

It costs the Rose family about $3000 per migrant worker after airfares, quarantine, medical checks and accommodation is taken into consideration, but Mr Rose said there was no other choice. “It’s either that or nothing,” he said.

The sting is not new to the Rose family who have been struggling to find workers since COVID first hit.

“We have tried local workers, but the ones that have turned up have lasted one or two days at most,” Mr Rose said.

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