Foreign students allowed extra hours to ease worker shortage

Up to 400,000 foreign students will be able to work extra hours under a temporary relaxation of visa rules to ease crippling labour shortages, amplified by the isolation of thousands of workers in response to COVID-19.

As the omicron wave disrupts commerce, fuel stations warned motorists could suffer a repeat of UK petrol shortages, unless rules on virus-related isolation and foreign student visa holders were loosened to alleviate staff absentee rates of up to 40 per cent.

Foreign students will have their 40-hour-a-fortnight working cap lifted in affected sectors, under a plan Prime Minister Scott Morrison will take to state and territory leaders at a national cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Isolation rules for close contacts in trucking, aviation and logistics are set to be eased, moving the sectors in line with lighter rules already flagged for food and grocery distribution workers who are asymptomatic and rapid test negative.

Some 20 per cent to 50 per cent of trucking and logistics workers have been forced to isolate according to government consultations with industry, exacerbating shortages of groceries at supermarkets and other stores.

Coles reimposed buying limits on toilet paper and essential medicines such as paracetamol, amid panic buying.

Mr Morrison will press states to remove the requirement for truckies to provide proof of a negative rapid antigen test to cross some state borders.

The Commonwealth is finalising a list of essential services with advice from health officials about which workers should face less strict isolation rules, with healthcare, aged care, childcare and construction under deliberation.

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