26 September 2023

PS staff on leave to try hands at farming

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Thousands of NSW Public Servants are being encouraged to try their hand at farming under a new leave entitlement scheme designed to assist the State’s farmers during the upcoming harvest season.

Announced by the Minister for Regional NSW, Paul Toole, the State-first five days of special leave are to be offered to more than 4,500 staff from the Department of Regional NSW, including Local Land Services and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

“Nearly 80 per cent of staff from the Department of Regional NSW already live and work in regional NSW, so chances are most of them know their way around a header or a chaser bin and how important this busy time of year is for regional communities,” Mr Toole said.

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

Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall welcomed the unprecedented move saying it would assist farmers during what was expected to be a bumper season.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” Mr Marshall said.

“There is no silver bullet to solve the COVID-exacerbated workforce shortage,” he said.

“This will be a record season and Harvest Leave provides another positive incentive to ensure this year’s crops are harvested, with the flow of economic gains being delivered to local communities and the people of NSW.”

Mr Marshall encouraged all eligible staff to sign up for the initiative, “get some fresh country air in the lungs and help alleviate some of the pressures facing farmers during harvest”.

He said staff could use local contacts or the Help Harvest NSW website to help find suitable opportunities to assist in this year’s harvest.

He said there was no cost to farmers who received help from Departmental volunteers, as staff would be paid at their standard leave rate by the Department.

“Leave will be managed to ensure there will be no impact on services provided by the Department,” Mr Marshall said.

The Public Service Association (PSA) has lodged a dispute over the plan, calling it a “pie in the sky idea”.

Assistant General Secretary of the PSA, Troy Wright said the Harvest Leave scheme assumed that Public Servants were not already working.

“The people being asked to volunteer on farms are the people who, among other things, monitor our State’s biosecurity, develop drought-resistant crops, and scope future resource and mining opportunities,” Mr Wright said.

He said the PSA’s dispute would raise a failure to consult with the union on the issue, particularly around safety concerns.

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