Essential workers and COVID-19 exemptions

Workers in horticulture have been deemed ‘essential labour’ under COVID-19 conditions so have been exempted from many travel and quarantine requirements.

However, there are some practical limitations on movement and obtaining work on farms. If you are a travelling worker armed with knowledge and are organised, you will have a better chance of picking up work.

To avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus state governments, with Federal support, have placed restrictions on travel between states, and in some situations within a state. However they have recognised that some movement is necessary to allow essential services to remain open to support everyone across the country. The supply of fresh food is clearly one of the necessities for daily life, and the demand has even increased as the public wants to be as healthy as possible to negate the effects of the virus.

Confirmation of job and accommodation essential

For anyone who needs to travel to a farm to get work, and this is for both backpackers and Australian workers, for several states you will need to have a job confirmed before you will be allowed to cross state borders. You may also need to confirm that you have accommodation to go to when you arrive at your destination. Evidence of this will be required either at the state border or after completing an application form available online and receiving approval.

Even if you are not crossing state lines, the farm that you are travelling to, or the rural community where the farm is located, will also expect you to have some form of suitable accommodation to go to. 

Although you may not have a legal obligation to undertake a 14 day quarantine period because of your ‘essential worker’ status, many farms will expect you to do so anyway to protect themselves, their family, and the rest of their farm workforce. They will be concerned that if an infection occurs amongst anyone on their farm, that their entire production will be shut down.

Bargain priced motorhomes

Living out of a van in public areas is usually discouraged but in the current environment you may find outright hostility if you try to do this. However a van with a toilet and shower, often referred to as a motorhome, opens up many more acceptable options of places to stay. The farm may even be happy to have you stay on their property, and you can self-isolate easily in a self-contained van.  

Although motorhomes are usually more expensive and out of the reach of travelling workers, while the COVID-19 lockdown is in place companies that hire them have very few customers. It is worth contacting motorhome businesses direct and checking what deals they are offering – at the moment you may get a long-term hire at a bargain price. And if it allows you to travel to an area where you can get farm work because your accommodation is sorted, you will have many more employment choices.

Hostels and other places to stay

Budget accommodation near farms where the work is available is often in the form of working hostels. Unfortunately living in close quarters is part of the nature of hostels, including sharing of facilities. This is not ideal even for social isolation, so genuine quarantine is a real challenge. As a result some hostels have closed altogether, while others have reduced the number of guests to try to keep them as safe as possible.

For those staying in hostels you may find the local community quite scared that you could bring the virus with you, especially if you have travelled from a major city, and not be as friendly as they usually are. If you understand what you need to do and fulfil those obligations, you stand a better chance of being welcomed.

Many caravan parks are also not open, but those that are and have cabins with ensuite bathrooms can comply with quarantine rules more easily. Some are even helping their quarantined guests by arranging grocery shopping for them.

As accommodation websites have not necessarily been updated with new information in these unusual and temporary circumstances, it will be important to ring ahead to confirm beds are still available. If you cannot find anything yourself, ask the farmer who is offering you a job. They will have good local knowledge and may even be able to help you organise somewhere to stay.  

For those regions that have a Harvest Labour Office, definitely call them for guidance. They will not only know what work opportunities are available in their area but will be able to help with up-to-date information on accommodation also. You can contact the Harvest Labour Office in the region you wish to travel to by calling 1800 062 332 and ask to be transferred to that office.

State by state

Although three states do not require quarantine on arrival from within Australia, the other states all do but there are differences in the rules.

NSW, Victoria and ACT

No obligation to quarantine

Northern Territory

A farm worker is considered an ‘essential traveller’ and will be allowed into the Northern Territory after a Border Arrival Form is completed with evidence of a firm job offer and arranged accommodation.  
NT Coronavirus border controls 


A farm worker is considered an ‘exempt person’ and will be allowed into Queensland after completing a Border Pass form and gaining approval. The application will require evidence of a firm job offer, the employer’s health plan, and that accommodation has been arranged.  
QLD COVID-19 border closing

South Australia

Farm workers are considered ‘essential travellers’ and will be allowed into South Australia with evidence of a firm job offer and arranged accommodation. Police at the border will ask for evidence of this, and will issue a Cross Border Travel Notice and allow entry.
SA Cross-border travel 


Tough restrictions are in place for entering Tasmania but the State has offered exemptions for ‘essential travellers’.  Although they have not defined farm workers in this category it is expected they will be accepted provided there is a firm job to go to. Take note that there is very little seasonal farm work in Tasmania during winter.
TAS border restrictions 

Western Australia

A farm worker may be considered an ‘exempt traveller’ and allowed into Western Australia after completing a G2G application. Approval may be dependent on agricultural skills and experience. Internal travel within Western Australia also requires a G2G application.
WA Travel advice