No shortage of pickers
Harvest labour office MADEC has moved to quell concerns about a shortage of fruit pickers and said it expected there would be enough pickers to satisfy demand.
Harvest labour services state manager Robert Hayes said while there had been some difficulty attracting workers in recent weeks, they were feeling positive.
‘‘We’re optimistic (we can fill the current vacancies), but it will be tight,’’ Mr Hayes said.
‘‘We have no doubt it will be challenging but we’re certainly optimistic we’ll meet the needs (of growers).
‘‘There’s no doubt that there are less working holiday backpackers looking for seasonal picking work at the moment.
‘‘October and November the situation was certainly tight. We had to look pretty hard to find enough people to fill the vacancies that we had.’’
Mr Hayes said the difficulty finding workers was an amalgamation of a number of things, with competition from other countries and issues of underpayment and exploitation tainting the industry.
While two to three years ago there was an oversupply of workers, it’s no longer as simple as sitting and waiting for workers to arrive, he said.
‘‘The dynamics have changed and you need to think, you need to plan,’’ Mr Hayes said.
‘‘Two to three years ago you had people driving from farm to farm ringing people, it really was hard to get that work. As a grower you didn’t really have to think too much, people would just appear.
‘‘The days are gone that you can say ‘something will turn up, there’s plenty of them’.’’
It’s a situation Plunkett Orchards orchard manager Jason Shield knows well.
He said after struggling to get pickers for some time the company ‘‘saw the writing on the wall’’ a few years ago.
After switching to an hourly wage for pickers about six years ago, the business ultimately made the decision to stop producing fruit for canning.
‘‘We’ve got out of the commodity varieties that aren’t worth enough,’’ Mr Shield said.
‘‘We’ve had to push out a lot of varieties that people have got because we can’t afford to pay hourly rates and grow them — the math doesn’t add up.’’
Having just finished picking the final lot of apricots, the orchard will only produce apples and pears in the future — a necessary change according to Mr Shield.
‘‘We had the exact same problem as everyone else, we couldn’t get pickers,’’ he said.
‘‘The writing has been on the wall for the last five years now. It’s the only two weeks in the whole year that we struggle to find workers.’’