Grow­com col­umn

Forced labour not the an­swer to short­age

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - News - DAVID THOM­SON Grow­com CEO

PRIME Min­is­ter Mor­ri­son’s an­nounce­ment that har­vest jobs would be filled by the long-term un­em­ployed and those on wel­fare is yet an­other ex­am­ple of the gov­ern­ment’s lack of knowl­edge around the needs of the hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try.

The in­dus­try is not the repos­i­tory for the long-term un­em­ployed and we want will­ing work­ers not those with no choice.

Grow­com con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for a ded­i­cated agri­cul­tural visa that will gen­uinely ad­dress the needs of farm­ers, as well as re­forms to the Sea­sonal Work­ers Pro­gram.

Ob­vi­ously, we would pre­fer to em­ploy Aus­tralians but de­spite in­cen­tive pro­grams to en­tice lo­cal work­ers into th­ese sea­sonal roles, the volatile na­ture of the in­dus­try makes it chal­leng­ing to re­cruit lo­cal work­ers.

Two years ago, the Queens­land straw­berry in­dus­try launched “The Sweet­est Jobs” cam­paign to en­cour­age Aussies onto farms. Of the more than 2000 ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est, 1000 job­seek­ers filled in an ini­tial screen­ing sur­vey to de­ter­mine suit­abil­ity in terms of avail­abil­ity and ca­pac­ity.

Of those 1000, only 126 were in­ter­viewed and to­day, two years on, only one re­mains em­ployed.

This is not nec­es­sar­ily a neg­a­tive re­flec­tion on the job­seek­ers, as the vari­able na­ture of farm work makes it chal­leng­ing for any­one with a fam­ily who can­not com­mit to work­ing flex­i­ble hours and days, doesn’t have trans­port or who wants con­sis­tent part-time or full-time work.

It does how­ever, high­light that it is prob­lem­atic to as­sume that lo­cal job­seek­ers can pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive, re­li­able and sta­ble labour source.

Many hor­ti­cul­ture en­ter­prises are sig­nif­i­cant re­gional em­ploy­ers and be­ing able to ac­cess sea­sonal work­ers means they can pro­vide em­ploy­ment for lo­cal peo­ple in longer-term po­si­tions.

We call on the Gov­ern­ment to work with in­dus­try to put for­ward a sen­si­ble op­tion to ad­dress hor­ti­cul­ture’s labour chal­lenges.

Grow­com is com­mit­ted to the eth­i­cal treat­ment of work­ers through our Fair Farms ini­tia­tive and co­erc­ing work­ers who don’t want to be there is not the path­way to a sus­tain­able work­force.

❝It

is prob­lem­atic to as­sume lo­cal job­seek­ers can pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive, re­li­able and sta­ble labour source.

PHOTO: IS­TOCK

LABOUR IS­SUES: Grow­com says forc­ing the long-term un­em­ployed into sea­sonal roles is not the so­lu­tion to the hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try’s worker short­age.

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