Though some fresh produce growers are confident about the recovery of fruit and vegetable volumes over the coming weeks and months, the hospitality sector is bracing for lower availability and higher prices.
“We know that cherries, we know that tomatoes, all those key things that you eat through Christmas are all going to be very expensive,” Clarke said. “Through Christmas, [a dozen] Sydney rock oysters, specifically in a restaurant, are going to cost you over 100 bucks.”
Meanwhile, restaurant supplier platform Foodbomb boss Paul Tory said the hospitality industry hadn’t been supported since JobKeeper was wound up. “It’s going to hit everyone’s pockets when staff costs are so high … All Australians will suffer.”
‘Get a crack on’: Act quickly, food leaders urge
The Seafood Industry Association (SIA) has proposed to the Albanese government to expand the requirements for the Temporary Work visa subclass 400, a six-month visa that permits foreign workers with “highly specialised skills, knowledge or experience”.
SIA boss Veronica Papacosta said the federal government had displayed a willingness to respond to the labour crisis, but there was still too much red tape in the way, with a backlog of some 950,000 visa applications yet to be processed.
“There is a short term need. We need some instant results,” Papacosta said. “We are feeling heard, we just need to get a crack on.”
However, Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said securing a stable workforce would require more than just handing out visas and would involve ensuring adequate accommodation options, as well as providing a pathway to permanent residency.
“We don’t want people to stay for three months. We want them to stay for the rest of their lives,” Hutchinson said. “We really need to be having a fair dinkum, full-tilt program, not just a visa.”
With meat processing facilities largely based in regional and rural Australia, and four in five of AMIC’s members are operating at 75 per cent capacity or less. “What we don’t want to see is what happened in January, when Omicron hit … we had beef off the shelf.”
The Alliance is also urging the federal government to adopt a long-term national food supply chain strategy as a matter of urgency amid the rising frequency of natural disasters locally.
A failure to act will threaten long-term domestic food security, said IFDA’s Forbes. “There will be food disruptions, food shortages, and continued increases in food prices when these natural disasters occur.”
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said the federal government needed to reduce red tape for some “quick wins”.
“Farmers have been waiting for years for answers to our workforce crisis,” she said.
“We’re sick to death of waiting.”
The Food Industry Alliance, which counts the National Farmers Federation (NFF), Restaurant and Catering Association (RCA), Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC), AUSVEG, Master Grocers Australia (MGA), Independent Food Distributors Australia (IFDA), the Seafood Industry Association (SIA) and the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) as members, represents over 160,000 businesses and generates over $200 billion in revenue.
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