Overseas seasonal workers can quarantine on farms in the NT

Seasonal workers arriving from overseas can now undertake their fortnight of mandatory quarantine on farms in the Northern Territory, meaning they’ll no longer have to stay in costly government facilities.

Key points:

  • Seasonal workers can quarantine on farms in the NT
  • Growers will still need to abide by strict COVID management plans
  • Industry has welcomed the news, but wishes it was allowed sooner

The move has been labelled a “shot in the arm” for struggling growers left with significant labour shortages in the wake of international travel restrictions.

Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said health authorities could now approve on-farm quarantine arrangements on a case-by-case basis.

“We can see workers come in under the Federal Government’s Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program, and they can undertake that mandatory 14 days quarantine on a farm and not in a facility,” she told the NT Country Hour.

Businesses will need to submit an online COVID-19 management plan — detailing why they need workers, where they will quarantine and their infection control practices — for consideration by the Chief Health Officer.

“It’s quite a strict process, but it does provide an opportunity for what we know is a vital workforce for some businesses,” Ms Fyles said.

RECAP: Look back on the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles is behind several camera and microphones talking.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles says this means seasonal workers may no longer have to stay in facilities such as Howard Springs.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Ms Fyles said workers would be required to honour physical distancing requirements during their quarantine periods, but would be allowed to work during their quarantine period if guidelines were followed.

“We wouldn’t want to see one person coming in who became unwell infecting numbers of workers,” she said.

Welcome news for struggling growers

Seasonal workers first began arriving in the Territory last year to help struggling mango farmers deal with labour shortages caused by coronavirus travel restrictions.

But unlike in Queensland — where on-farm quarantine has been credited with saving farmers millions of dollars — workers in the NT still had to undergo two weeks of supervised quarantine at the Howard Springs facility on the outskirts of Darwin.

The Territory’s trial program cost about $500,000, with the NT mango industry forking out the $2,500 quarantine fee for each worker plus the chartered flight from Port Vila, understood to have cost around $100,000.

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