Test ban risks stranding sugarcane harvest

Test ban risks stranding sugarcane harvest
May 5 2020

CANEGROWERS is urging a commonsense, pragmatic and risk-based approach to prevent Queensland sugarcane being stranded at the roadside because of the state’s blanket ban on all driver testing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

CANEGROWERS is using every advocacy opportunity and putting forward suggestions which would mitigate the risk of any virus transmission in a bid to see a restart of in-vehicle driver testing as soon as possible ahead of the start of the harvest.

“The issue has been raised at meetings and letters have been written but we need the government to now step in and work with us to resolve this issue,” CANEGROWERS CEO Dan Galligan said.“We have potentially hundreds of drivers needing testing in districts which rely on road transport to move cut cane from farms to either sugar mills or rail sidings.

“Among those affected is Queensland’s most productive growing district, the Burdekin, which grows around 25% of the state’s sugarcane crop.

“In this area alone, CANEGROWERS Burdekin representatives estimate that at least an additional (new) 60 heavy vehicle licenced drivers are needed, possibly more, to ensure work can start on time and that there is a pool of stand by drivers should an outbreak of COVID-19 in the region push qualified people into quarantine.”

A reduction in the number of drivers coming to Queensland from interstate and New Zealand while COVID-19 border restrictions are in place has opened up an opportunity for locals looking for work who are capable but lack the appropriate HR license.

“Hundreds of these skilled drivers are deployed every year and every year there is a need to upskill, train and licence new entrants to the role,” Mr Galligan said.

“People in the community who have lost other employment due to coronavirus restrictions are ready and able to work but need the relevant HR licence.”

CANEGROWERS has suggested to the Department of Transport and Main Roads and Queensland Health that the size of the vehicles involved mean that social distancing could be practiced in a way to protects both the candidate and the assessor and that, if needed, PPE could be worn.

“With agriculture considered to be an essential industry during the pandemic and the drivers important for a successful harvest, since early April we have raised the issue at government-industry meetings at which CANEGROWERS represents the sugarcane industry,” Mr Galligan said. "It's now time for a commonsense approach that meets industry needs while keeping people safe."