ATTRACTING and retaining the correct staff is an ongoing issue for many grain growers and the need to plan is even more critical in 2020 as COVID-19 has changed the way people live, work and travel.
Agriculture labour requirements fluctuate throughout the year and often peak at harvest, adding the extra challenge of staffing when grain growers are already under time constraints.
On top of that, the agricultural sector is reporting labour shortages as a result of COVID-19, particularly when it comes to international travel restrictions limiting the traditional labour source of overseas workers, or backpackers, to take up short-term roles.
A Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) fact sheet, titled Filling the Farm Labour Gap, recommends employers plan ahead to understand their specific labour needs to source labour resources best suited to their business.
GRDC grower relations manager - west, Jo Wheeler said this allowed time to ensure the correct processes were in place to find the correct employee and retain staff either long-term or on a seasonal basis.
"The People in Agriculture website, which was developed by key members across the agricultural sector, recommends creating a better workplace by looking beyond pay rates," Ms Wheeler said.
"It outlines factors that can help create a positive working environment with a good work-life balance, this includes offering career development options, a safe working environment and reasonable and fair working hours and conditions."
The need to hire staff is often new territory for many farming operations as the trend to expand has forced staff growth beyond the traditional family-run farm.
"The GRDC's A Guide to Farm Labour publication breaks down workforce planning into six stages and encourages growers to use the same professional approach to hiring employees as used in other areas of the farm business," Ms Wheeler said.
"These human resourcing processes can be managed in-house, but require time and resources for managing contracts, training, salaries, rosters and recruitment.
"External agencies can also be hired to manage this part of the business, which can be useful in peak periods and to provide insight from experts when dealing with compliance and legislative requirements."
Growers looking to advertise for roles have a range of traditional options including newspapers and social media, while the Australian Government's Harvest Trail portal provides employers with a portal to reach thousands of people looking for work in the sector.
The People in Agriculture website also has a range of resources for employers which covers the stages of employing new staff, from payroll and managing staff to employee entitlements and workplace training and development.
Ms Wheeler said the process of interviewing, hiring and inducting a staff member builds a solid foundation of trust and respect between the employer and employee.
"The GRDC Farm Labour Fact Sheet recommends a labour health check to ensure a smooth process," she said.
"Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman provides education, assistance, advice and guidance to employers and provides information on employee pay and leave entitlements.
"There are also resources to assist with employment contracts and minimum conditions for employees."
There are specific workplace entitlements and obligations that apply as a result of COVID-19 control measures in Australia.
The ombudsman has a specific coronavirus and Australian workplace laws website to detail workplace entitlements such as quarantine and self-isolation pay and leave options for employees.
Ms Wheeler said the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment had a range of services and links to State-specific information relevant to COVID-19 in order to maintain a strong agricultural industry.
"The department recommends seeking the latest information from State and Territory governments as regulations can differ," she said.
"In addition to providing the correct leave and entitlements to employees during this time, there are control measures specific to the agricultural industry that employers are required to practice to minimise the spread of COVID-19, even if it disrupts production.
"These are outlined by Safe Work Australia and include cleaning, the use of masks and physical distancing, these duties come under work health and safety laws and are also important in supporting the health and wellbeing of employees."
WA growers and jobseekers can access a State-specific agricultural jobs directory thanks to WAFarmers via the Grain Farm Jobs in WA website.
"Growers are also encouraged to seek the latest information on regulations and management from the WAFarmers website and the WA government," Ms Wheeler said.
"Free harvest training is being offered at the Muresk Institute as a part of the WA government's $25 million skills recovery program, with the Broadacre Harvest Operations course providing students with the skills and knowledge to safely undertake employment for harvest operations in the broadacre sector.
"Participants will gain the knowledge to operate a range of machinery used for harvest, including a tractor, header, auger and chaser bin."
This training program will be delivered at Muresk Institute by South Regional TAFE and expressions of interest are also being sought for an Esperance-based course.