No short­age of pick­ers

Shepparton News - Country News - - INTERNATIONAL DAIRY WEEK 2018 - By Alana Chris­tensen

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.’’

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