SYDNEY, AAP – A plan to get NSW public servants to volunteer to help harvest the state’s bumper crop has hit a hurdle with the union saying it’s ‘a pie in the sky idea’.

Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader Paul Toole on Thursday unveiled a new strategy to try and help growers, announcing that thousands of public servants would soon be able to get five days leave in an effort to fill labour shortages during this year’s harvest.

The plan was a response to critical shortages facing the agricultural industry after COVID-19 border restrictions added to a string of other challenges – including drought, bushfires and a mouse plague.

The Public Service Association said on Friday it had lodged a dispute over the plan to offer staff at the Department of Regional NSW week-long harvest leave.

Up to 80 per cent of the staff who work for the Department are based in the regions and it’s estimated more than 4500 will be eligible to apply.

“Rather than addressing the systemic workplace issues in agricultural industry they’ve cooked up a scheme that’s not worth more than the press release it’s written on,” PSA assistant general secretary Troy Wright said.

“It is a dumb, lazy idea that assumes public servants aren’t already working,” he said.

People being asked to volunteer on farms were performing vital work monitoring biosecurity, developing drought resistant crops, and scope future resource and mining opportunities, he said.

“They deliver economic value to the industry and our state, but the government would rather deploy them to pick apples.

“Regional NSW has young people desperate for a job. On the same day our unemployment numbers went up, the deputy premier offered people who already have a job another job?”

The PSA’s dispute will raise a failure to consult with the union on the issue, particularly around safety concerns.