The WA Government has given the green light for a charter flight of 150 Tongan workers to arrive in WA in late May to help ease the state’s horticulture and hospitality worker squeeze.
- 150 Tongan workers have been given clearance to arrive in WA on May 21
- It comes less than a week after the WA government knocked back a charter flight last week
- WA’s Agriculture Minister says the government is considering isolating workers in decommissioned hotel accommodation
It comes less than a week after the Chief Health Officer denied an application for a flight of Ni Vanuatu workers to arrive in Perth on May 7, citing a lack of quarantine capacity.
While the State Government is yet to determine exactly where the workers will be quarantined when they arrive next month, Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan this week confirmed one option under consideration is using previously decommissioned quarantine accommodation.
While workers will be sent to locations such as Carnarvon to assist the table grape harvest, Gingin for berry picking and Harvey in the South West for the citrus season, the majority will be sent to prune grapevines in the South West.
Margaret River Wine Industry Association chief executive Amanda Whiteland said she was relieved that experienced workers were arriving as planned.
“We’re a fine wine region, and having experienced workers who have been coming to the region for a number of years is really important.
“These workers are very efficient. They are fast. They get the job done.
“They inject a lot of money into the economy. It’s estimated it’s nearly half a million dollars that they support our local economy with their accommodation and food, and everything they give back while here.”
Growers welcome greater ‘certainty’
Industry body Vegetables WA, which slammed the government for blocking the planned May 7 flight last week, welcomed the decision to allow the later May flight into WA.
President Damir Kuzmicich said the industry had been told it could be optimistic that future charter flights earmarked to arrive throughout June and July would proceed.
“We are hoping for two more flights from Vanuatu in June and early July, and this is exactly the kind of information we need to be able to plant our crops,” he said.
Earlier this month, an independent review of WA’s hotel quarantine system recommended a tightening up of ventilation standards in dedicated quarantine hotels.
Ms MacTiernan said those recommendations had meant accommodation previously used to quarantine workers was no longer available because the government needed it to isolate returning Australians.
Government mulls quarantine sites
She said the government was now considering a quarantine system that could accommodate seasonal workers and enable the government to continue to meet its agreed number of international arrivals by using decommissioned hotels.
“They [the workers] won’t be accommodated at the Four Points hotel, which was the one we needed to hand back because of the increased requirements,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“The Minister for Health and myself are working with the Chief Health Officer to find another city hotel. We’re pretty confident we’re going to able to do that.
“We have the support of the CHO to continue these [flights], and perhaps in a way that recognises the risk profile of the people coming in from Vanuatu is lower than those coming in from India and the US.
“A possibility is that perhaps while it will still be very much hotel quarantine as it has substantially been for the last year, perhaps on a few indicators such as the ventilation quality that could be varied for this class [of workers].”
Premier Mark McGowan said the government would not be employing a two-tiered system for low and high-risk arrivals as flagged by Ms MacTiernan.
However, he said his government recognised that Pacific Island workers presented a lower risk than arrivals from other international locations and was considering its options.