In late March 2017 the Whitsundays Airlie Beach, Proserpine and Bowen were severely impacted by category 4 tropical cyclone Debbie. Businesses across various industries including agriculture, tourism, maritime, hospitality, retail, construction and mining were forced to make hard decisions regarding immediate and medium-term workforce requirements and currently many months after the event businesses and locals are still coping with the impact of the cyclone.
Hundreds of locals were displaced from their place of work, as a result of extensive damage to businesses, who were forced to close their doors for undeterminable periods of time. This predicament presented an opportunity for the Bowen horticulture industry to engage with a local workforce to offer some hope for people who would be interested in working on the farms and time was of the essence to place interested local workers in jobs before the influx of backpackers arrived in the region.
Bowen and Gumlu farmers were hit hard, losing 100% of all planted crops resulting in an estimated 100 million dollars loss. An immediate need was for labour to assist with the clean-up of destroyed infrastructure including packing sheds, flooded paddocks, pulling up plastics, irrigation and preparing the ground for re-planting. Access to workers was a challenge, many relying on the few backpackers that had stayed during the cyclone, family members and the community.
Julia Wheway, QAWN Agriculture Workforce Officer for Northern Qld was fortunate to be connected to the industry right at the heart of the problem and was able to connect key stakeholders from local, federal and state government departments to put together a plan to assist the region recover.
The Whitsundays Employment Action Network (WEAN), a collaboration between employment service providers, agencies and Australian and Queensland Government Departments, was created to support Whitsunday regional industry with workforce recruitment and development matters and assist more local jobseekers into employment.
QAWN officer Julia Wheway has played an active role in the WEAN steering committee and has been able to hand over the coordination of the network to the Department of Employment and Back to Work teams to ensure its continuity and relevance to all industry sectors.
As a result of QAWN’s involvement a Job Active farm tour was organised to assist employment consultants get up to speed with the horticulture industry local growers employment and skill needs. A group of 10 people including jobactive employees/managers, Group Training Organisations, Apprenticeships and Traineeships and Department of Employment staff from Canberra to visited 2 farms (Phantom Produce and Veejaykalfresh Tomatoes) in Bowen. The farm tour was timed to coincide with the Seasonal Work Incentives Trial information session in Bowen connecting Canberra policy makers with growers to discuss first-hand how the program could be improved and expanded.
QAWN regional officer Julia Wheway continues to play an important role in the recovery and transition many farm businesses are undergoing in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
Julia Wheway: 0427 009 929