COVID-19 - securing labour supply

At a glance

  • Temporary visa changes in place to secure seasonal agricultural labour supply.
  • Western Australian travel restrictions enable movement of agricultural workers with proof of employment.
  • Additional safeguards in place to manage risk and maintain health and safety and support business continuity.
  • A declaration confirming that appropriate accommodation arrangements are in place is required for agricultural employers utilising Working Holiday Makers (WHM).
  • Agricultural businesses employing WHM must prepare a COVID-19 Health Management Plan as part of their occupational health and safety management responsibility.
  • Food businesses should refer to the WA Department of Health ‘Practices and Principles to reduce the risk of impacts of COVID-19 on a food business workplace’ document.
  • Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) to work with industry in coming weeks to determine finer details.

Following the recent announcement by the Commonwealth Government on temporary changes to Australian visa arrangements, the State Government has been working closely with the Commonwealth to help farmers to access the workforce they need to secure Western Australia’s food and produce supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary changes will allow WHM and those within the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program to continue to work in agriculture and food processing until the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

This coupled with Western Australia’s current travel restrictions, which allow for the movement of agricultural workers with proof of employment within the State, will ensure that agricultural businesses reliant on WHMs for seasonal work will be able to access available labour in Western Australia.

In working through these arrangements, the State Government has focussed on designing practical measures that ensure the risk of COVID-19 transmission is effectively managed while also allowing workers to move to new employment.

The State Government has agreed to apply further safeguards for both WHMs and employers to address health risks and community concerns while WA agribusinesses are operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guidance on implementation of these new safeguards for primary industry businesses employing WHMs is provided below.


Temporary visa changes

Working Holiday Makers (WHM) who work in agriculture or food processing will be exempt from the six-month work limitation with the one employer and will be eligible to apply for a further visa to continue working in these critical sectors, if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.

Further information for WHMs seeking to apply for a further visa to continue working in a critical sector can be found on the Department of Home Affairs website.


Movement restrictions for WHMs

WHM are subject to the same regional travel restrictions that apply to all other persons in Western Australia. Advice on travelling to and around Western Australia is available on the State Government website.

Interstate movement

Strict WA border controls are in place, and a person cannot enter Western Australia unless an exemption has been granted. We do not anticipate working holiday makers would qualify for an exemption to enter Western Australia to engage in agricultural work, unless they are providing a specialist skill not available in Western Australia. More information on interstate travel exemptions.

Intrastate movement

Under the Western Australian Government’s current regional travel restrictions, WHMs may move between regions within the State provided they have secured an offer of employment, and can show proof of this employment. There is no requirement for a 14-day self-isolation period for movement within Western Australia. WHMs moving between regions for employment should apply for their travel permit through the G2G Pass website.


COVID-19 safeguards for WHMs in Western Australia

Working Holiday Makers must adhere to the same COVID-19 risk mitigation measures and directives that apply to all other persons in Western Australia. Failure to do so will result in penalties. The latest advice on WA's COVID-19 risk mitigation measures and directives is available online and in languages other than English.

Working Holiday Makers will be expected to:

  • familiarise themselves with the safety measures in place in the workplace to minimise the risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus.
  • secure accommodation of a standard to allow for appropriate hygiene and physical distancing practices. Advice on physical distancing can be found here. 
  • advise employers of the address of their accommodation.
  • if employed in agriculture, sign an employee/employer declaration form acknowledging they understand their obligations.
Employer provided on-farm accommodation requirement

If a WHM is offered agricultural employment that includes onsite accommodation provided by the employer, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the on-farm accommodation is of a standard to allow for appropriate hygiene and physical distancing practices. Advice on physical distancing and WA’s COVID-19 risk mitigation measures and directives is available online.

If a WHM accepts an offer of employment in the agriculture sector with onsite accommodation provided by the employer, it is the WHM’s responsibility to practice physical distancing at the accommodation, and in the workplace.


COVID-19 safeguards for employers of WHMs in Western Australia

COVID-19 Health Management Plans

Existing Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require employers to look after the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. Employers must identify risks at the workplace and, where possible, eliminate or minimise those risks for general WHS compliance.

It is in the direct interest of all agricultural and food businesses to have documented processes for managing COVID-19 risks.  Good risk minimisation measures and practices will allow businesses to remain open in the event a worker falls ill with COVID-19.  If plans are not in place this may not be the case.

To assist in the transparency of workplace safety measures, the WA Government expects agricultural and food businesses to implement COVID-19 health management plans as part of their Occupational Health and Safety responsibility. These plans should clarify the obligations of both employer and employee in mitigating risk and outline what to do should a COVID-19 outbreak occur.

In developing a plan, consideration might be given to the following:

  • Physical distancing
  • Health checks and quarantine
  • Premise cleaning
  • Personal hygiene
  • Use of personal protective equipment
  • Interactions with the public
  • Consultation and communication with workers

The WA Department of Health has developed a primary guideline to assist WA employers developing work plans for their businesses - ‘Practices and Principles to reduce the risk of impacts of COVID-19 on a food business workplace’.

Safe Work Australia has also developed comprehensive COVID-19 information for workplaces:

Employer-WHM employee declaration of understanding

The WA Government expects employers and their WHM employees to sign a declaration confirming they understand and will follow the protocols in place in the COVID-19 Health Management Plan. The employee/employer declaration form is available online.


Support for WA employers and job seekers

Due to these additional requirements and the ongoing closure of state and national borders, businesses are encouraged to be organised early for their upcoming recruitment needs.

An industry operated webpage provides job seekers, WHM and employers with resources, information and links relating to working in the WA agrifood sector.

 In addition, DPIRD has funded an employment matching platform Studium to provide employment matching services to WA agrifood employers.

This partnership will enable a targeted recruitment on a region by region basis and is available as a fully-funded resource until October 2020, for free use by employers, labour hire businesses and regional recruiter companies.

For more information on these services, please visit the Studium website or email support@studium.work.com.


More information and support

For more information and support during COVID-19, please visit DPIRD's webpages below: