Farmer work­ers’ dilemma

Stanthorpe Border Post - - NEWS -

PRO­DUC­ERS are star­ing down a shock­ing crunch point which could see crops worth mil­lions of dol­lars left to rot on the vine, even with more Aussies in dole queues than the past twenty years as they’re un­will­ing to move vast dis­tances to do the tough work.

Sea­sonal work­ers avail­able to pick crops and work the farm are quickly dis­ap­pear­ing.

But Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter David Lit­tleproud said farm­ers in re­gional ar­eas can’t com­pete with JobSeeker pay­ments in the cities, and con­vince peo­ple to move for short-term work.

LNP Sen­a­tor Su­san McDon­ald said in some cases the prob­lem wasn’t an “un­skilled work­force, but an un­will­ing work­force”.

The first crunch point for the in­dus­try in April was avoided when the gov­ern­ment ex­tended the time for hol­i­day worker, Pa­cific Is­land worker and sea­sonal worker visas if they agreed to work in the es­sen­tial in­dus­tries of agri­cul­ture, health and aged care.

But as the num­bers of visa hold­ers in Aus­tralia dwin­dle, and in­ter­na­tional bor­ders re­main­ing shut, a sec­ond dan­ger zone is loom­ing for the next pick­ing sea­son from Septem­ber to March.

Mr Lit­tleproud said farm­ers needed to ad­ver­tise for Aus­tralian work­ers be­fore they hired some­one on a visa, but the dis­tant lo­ca­tion of the work, need­ing to move ev­ery few weeks or months made it hard for many peo­ple.

“Our pref­er­ence is for an Aus­tralian to work, par­tic­u­larly if they’re un­em­ployed,” he said.

“But in essence, the chal­lenge that farm­ers have, they can’t wait for some­one to know if they want to do this work.

“The labour mar­ket is there to source it. It’s the flu­id­ity and mov­ing it around the coun­try to ad­dress the needs we have to deal with.”

He said he was work­ing with in­dus­try to de­velop ways to en­sure they keep a work force.

Pi­nata Farms’ Gavin Scurr said they had enough work­ers for now, but they were al­ready be­gin­ning to see the drop off.

“We’d love to hire Aus­tralians, but the re­al­ity is none of them are out here to get a job. It doesn’t make sense that peo­ple don’t have a job and we could have fruit rot­ting in the field,” he said.

Mr Scurr said open­ing up a trans-Tas­man bub­ble with New Zealand and other COVID-safe Pa­cific Is­land na­tions would make a huge dif­fer­ence.

Hor­ti­cul­ture peak body Grow­com boss David Thom­son said the in­dus­try was pre­par­ing for its pool of avail­able labour to shrink.

“Our fo­cus is now sift­ing be­yond our win­ter sea­son to en­sure labour sup­ply through to the end of the year and be­yond,” he said.

Pic­ture: Lachie Mil­lard

KEEN TO WORK: Ja­panese back­pack­ers Rei Fu­ji­wara, Sa­tori Naka­mura and Anna Na­gaoka pick straw­ber­ries on Pi­nata Farms.

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