NSW public servants offered harvest leave to support farm worker shortfall

© Provided by ABC NEWS Thousands of public servants will have the option to spend a week’s paid leave on farms across NSW. (ABC News: Charles Brice)

More than 4,000 New South Wales public servants are being offered five days’ harvest leave in a bid to ease the workforce shortage in the lead up to a forecast bumper grains harvest.

Deputy Premier Paul Toole said more than three-quarters of staff in the Department of Regional NSW had expressed interest in the leave, which could be taken in conjunction with annual or long-service leave.

“These workers can volunteer to help out with any harvest anywhere in the state,” he said. 

“From harvesting blueberries in Coffs Harbour, oranges and table grapes in the Riverina and Murray, to cherries in the Central West or helping bring in a bumper grain harvest.”

Peak agriculture bodies have long been calling for help in addressing a workforce shortage, which has intensified since the pandemic forced border closures.

Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the fluctuating harvest workforce could be short by thousands.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” he said.

“There is no silver bullet to solve the COVID-exacerbated workforce shortage, but this is another step we are implementing to support industry.”

Mr Marshall said the department staff would be volunteering their time to farmers while being paid by the state government.

“It’ll essentially not cost the taxpayers of New South Wales any further money because whether the staff are taking harvest leave or [not] … they continue to be paid regardless.”

Department services not impacted

Mr Marshall said the leave would also be offered to staff in Greater Sydney, although he said there was “only a handful of staff” based there.

He said most staff were rural people with strong networks in the agriculture sector.

They will need to prove they are working on a property and the leave will be managed to ensure there will be no impact on department services.

Mr Toole said regional NSW had had a “tough run” and it was vital labour shortages did not hamper the good season.

“Agriculture and farming play a pivotal role in our economy, so providing harvest leave to staff to provide an extra set of hands in the field helps get produce to market and dollars into farmers’ pockets.”

Farmers are being encouraged to register for staff via the government’s Help Harvest website.

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