Dozens of Tongan workers are flown into Tasmania by plane to join migrant fruit pickers 

A plane load of 162 fruit pickers from Tonga touched down in Australia this week joining another 202 workers from the Pacific Island nation who have recently arrived.

While the previous bunch headed to North Queensland to pick mangoes and grapes, the new group are in hotel quarantine preparing to pick berries in the cooler climate of Tasmania

Australia’s fruit growers are highly dependent on seasonal workers who travel from other countries, such as backpackers, with coronavirus travel bans having decimated their workforce. 

A plane load of 162 workers from Tonga touched down in Tasmania this week to help pick fruit amid a labour shortage (pictured: Pacific Island workers pick berries in Australia in November)

A plane load of 162 workers from Tonga touched down in Tasmania this week to help pick fruit amid a labour shortage (pictured: Pacific Island workers pick berries in Australia in November) 

Nine Pacific Island nations are able to bypass travel bans to work on Australian farms (pictured) as a gap of 26,000 seasonal workers is dealt with by produce growers

Nine Pacific Island nations are able to bypass travel bans to work on Australian farms (pictured) as a gap of 26,000 seasonal workers is dealt with by produce growers 

The Tongan workers, who landed in Hobart on Monday evening as part of the Pacific Labour Scheme, will work on farms in the Devonport and Launceston area, including Hillwood Berries on the Tamar River. 

Simon Dornauf, Hillwood’s farm manager, said the Tongan visitors would pick blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, once they had finished the 14-day quarantine. 

‘The guys that are currently with us  have been doing some considerably long days at the moment, so it’ll just ease the burden on those guys once they get out of the quarantine period,’ Mr Dornauf told the Examiner

‘We are in the middle of our peak right now. So they’re going to miss that but that’s just the nature of the quarantine windows that we’ve had.’ 

There are currently 260 seasonal workers and 100 locals working at Hillwood Berries, just one farm among Tasmania’s $80million a year berry industry.

Pacific Islander workers (pictured) were allowed to travel to Australia despite border closures, though the number who have flown into the country is only about 1,000

Pacific Islander workers (pictured) were allowed to travel to Australia despite border closures, though the number who have flown into the country is only about 1,000 

Tasmania's berry industry is worth $80million a year with farms in the states employing thousands of workers (stock image)

Tasmania’s berry industry is worth $80million a year with farms in the states employing thousands of workers (stock image) 

Mr Dornauf explained the new workers are the ‘last piece of the puzzle’ needed for the farm to successfully harvest and pack their produce for supermarkets. 

Citizens of Tonga, which has not had one reported case of coronavirus, are able to get nine month working visas in Australia despite international borders being closed in March to combat the spread Covid. 

Other countries which can apply to the Pacific Labour Scheme are Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. 

Less then 1,500 Pacific Island workers have flown to Australia under the eased restrictions. 

Farms across the country have been scrambling to fill 26,000 seasonal jobs to harvest and pack produce for supermarkets after international borders closed. 

The government recently offered Australian locals up to $6,000 in cash if they relocate to regional areas for farm work for just six weeks. 

The cash back is provided on money spent to take on the work – such as plane tickets, accommodation, work clothes, meals, and car hire. 

More information on the government’s Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job for short-term Agricultural work can be found on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website. 

Australian fruit growers (pictured) are struggling to find workers to pick and pack fruit for supermarket shelves

 Australian fruit growers (pictured) are struggling to find workers to pick and pack fruit for supermarket shelves 

ITEMS WHICH CAN BE CLAIMED  

ACCOMMODATION

▪ Non-rent commercial accommodation at new location (including but not limited to caravan parks, cabins, motels, boarding houses, campsite fee) 

▪ Rent at new location (excluding rental bonds) 

▪ Camping equipment up to $250 per participant for core camping items including shelter and bedding 

▪ Where the accommodation cost includes some meal items, for example, breakfast or a small packed lunch and these costs can be included in the accommodation invoice, these costs can be reimbursed, except for prohibited items such as alcohol. 

TRAVEL

▪ Plane, bus, train tickets and fees (the most direct route and the method that provides the most value for money, except in exceptional circumstances) 

▪ Baggage allowances 

▪ Car hire and car hire insurance

▪ Fuel (the most direct route and only on agreed travel days) 

▪ In-transit accommodation costs 

▪ Costs for return travel to the original location using the most direct route 

▪ $40 flat rate, per travel day, per participant, towards food costs 

EMPLOYMENT

▪ Safety Clothing 

▪ Uniforms (if not provided by the employer) 

▪ Boots 

Source: Department of Education Skills and Employment 

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