It is time to think creatively about ways to get “all hands on deck” in critical sectors to counter the millions of workers currently sick or in isolation, employer organisation Ai Group says.
Ai Group suggested granting work rights to all visa holders currently in Australia, with food and logistics businesses reporting between 10-50 per cent of workers out of action.
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said the changes would be temporary, could be introduced immediately, and then reviewed once the outbreak passes its peak, he said.
The group has called on national cabinet to agree on workable consistent rules on Covid testing, isolation and returning to work when it meets on Thursday, 12 January.
Willox said cabinet must address the huge stresses currently on the supply chain and growing number of critical workers out of action.
“To give this perspective, if 20 per cent of our entire workforce was isolated or sick that would equate to around 2.6 million workers,” Willox said.
“One potential solution is to temporarily lift visa work right restrictions. There are hundreds of thousands of visa holders in Australia at any one time and if those without work rights or with limited work rights were allowed to work temporarily this would address supply shortages and ease the stresses for many businesses.”
Current regulations mean temporary skilled 482 visa holders can only work for one sponsor.
Willox said the group would like to see a temporary granting of work rights to all visa holders currently in Australia, allowing them to work in areas of acute need, like the work right extensions already granted to international students.
“Under such an arrangement, areas where visa holders would be allowed to work for the temporary period would include aged care and disability sectors; agriculture; tourism and hospitality, supermarkets and associated distribution and food manufacturing facilities.
“Why not, for example, allow temporary skilled 482 visa holders to earn extra money helping to alleviate shortages by working extra hours in a supermarket, a food manufacturing plant or as a truck driver,” Willox said.
Ai Group’s call is one of a growing chorus demanding cohesive action, including the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA).