ORANGE, AAP – Putting unemployed and older people to work could help feed regional and remote communities during the peak of the Omicron outbreak, an industry body says.

Acting Small Business Minister Anne Ruston on Wednesday suggested opening up job opportunities for older Australians, the unemployed, and temporary visa holders to ease the burden on the nation’s supply chain caused by surging COVID-19 cases.

“Anybody who is currently on unemployment benefits who is able to work, we would be really keen for them to undertake some really active investigations about how they could help out with these workforce shortages,” Senator Ruston told Sky News.

The Independent Food Distributors Association, which represents hundreds of suppliers across Australia, says such a move could benefit rural communities and vulnerable populations.

“We’ve got to keep in mind the remote and Indigenous communities are out there and we need to make sure we keep getting the food up to them,” chief executive Richard Forbes said.


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“It’s the great unknown at the moment … we need to be as prepared as possible.”

Independent distributors deliver food to 1500 hospitals and aged care facilities around Australia, as well as prisons, schools and military bases.

Mr Forbes said federal, state and territory governments should be prioritising critical distribution services, and subsidising the cost of running their businesses during the pandemic.

“Just as we’re getting our head above water, we have to pay for RAT tests. We should get free RAT tests for servicing the most vulnerable in society. That’s fair,” he said.