Australian farmers wait for foreign labor as locals too ‘spoiled for choice’ | Australia News



A microcosm of Australians’ reluctance to work on farms can be seen in the Yarra Valley in Victoria.

The CEO of a group of strawberry farms, Miffy Gilbert, has struggled to find labor for the current harvest, while her teenage son works as a shelf stacker in a supermarket.

Australians are not lazy, according to Gilbert, we are simply spoiled for choice in a situation reflected in most developed countries.

“Australians are harder to come by because we are fortunate to have a lot of options ahead of us as to what we do for the job,†says Gilbert.

“When I grew up there weren’t a cafe or three on every corner like there are now.”

Gilbert is also CEO of AusBerry Farmers, a collaborative farming effort between seven families in the Yarra Valley.

“If I told him, ‘I have seven farms, where do you want to work?’ There is no way. That’s as much money as stacking shelves of fruits and vegetables in air-conditioned comfort rather than sitting in a wet field for half a day.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences is predict record production values ​​for a second consecutive year. The office also reports a shortage of around 22,000 workers across the country during the next quarter, including 16,000 in horticulture. The border closures exacerbated the shortage, as did the Australia-U.K. trade deal in June that removed the requirement for farm labor for farmers. about 10,000 UK backpackers to extend their working holiday visa.

Gilbert began looking for labor almost as soon as the previous harvest was over. She thought she could get away with it.

“But with the border closures and the lockdown here in Victoria, we think we could be somewhere between 15% and 25%.”

Strawberries grown by AusBerry Farmers, a collaboration of seven families from the Yarra Valley to Victoria. Photography: Tim McGlone / The Guardian

“This is probably a major problem in the first two months until Christmas, when the picking is fast and furious and the volumes are higher.

“We are lucky in strawberries that there are ways to manage the crop to reduce the peak so that it can be 20% lower, which you are not able to do with many others. cultures. “

More than $ 60 million in crop losses have been reported by farmers nationwide since mid-2020, but the real figure is likely much higher.

The federal government’s response has been twofold: to try to attract Australians to agricultural work, in conjunction with seasonal workers abroad.

An agricultural visa has been looming for a long time. Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised in June to have the visa in place by the end of the year, after the announcement of the British trade agreement, but the details remain vague.

The other potential solution was a $ 6,000 incentive for Australians to relocate for work. Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack even noted the Instagram Opportunities for young Australians in regional locations.

A drone photo shows a tractor hauling oranges to a farm near Leeton, NSW.
An orange orchard near Leeton, New South Wales. Photograph: Lukas Coch / AAP

Earlier this year, I picked grapes on a farm in Western Australia, after completing the Federal Government Relocation Assistance requirements to undertake an employment program, (since renamed AgMove).

My correspondence with Harvest Trail Information Services (HTIS) began in mid-December 2020. Despite a long paperwork, I have not yet received a dime from the incentive, despite picking my last grape over seven months.

Maddy Muller and Riley Harrington, from Bendigo, are in the same boat.

“It has been almost six months since we finished picking the fruit and we have yet to receive payment,†said Muller.

“I don’t think the process should be so tedious, especially since there was a real concern with the [labour] shortages.

Gilbert is optimistic about what the visa will offer, but says diversification is key when it comes to finding manpower.

“We’re probably looking to spread our risk and not put all of our eggs in one basket. Our people are great people who all work very hard. We would like to have more backpackers, but there aren’t many in this area.

“We are very optimistic about the agricultural visa and are already considering what it looks like for us.”

Workers at a <a class=strawberry farm in Launceston, Tasmania” data-src=”” height=”3360″ width=”5040″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
Workers at a strawberry farm in Launceston, Tasmania. Photograph: The Guardian

Not all are equally dynamic. Deputy Director of the Migration Program at the Grattan Institute, Henry Sherrell, specializes in labor markets and immigration policy.

While acknowledging the obvious benefits of the farm visa, Sherrell is concerned that it also has the potential to expose migrant workers to the kind of exploitation for which parts of the industry have been infamous in the past.

“I think it has the potential to change things up a bit, but I’m actually thinking of the worst,†he says.

“I think the biggest risk is that exploitation becomes more common. It’s a very, very big change, and I think it’s received a little bit of attention, but probably not quite the attention it deserves.

Australian Workers Union National Secretary Daniel Walton is more direct.

“This visa will undermine the current Pacific labor regime and the seasonal worker program. Apparently, the meager protections offered to Pacific Islanders under these programs are too luxurious, so the government is keen to offer a visa under which abuse is even easier.

“It’s crazy that Australia is apparently ready to destroy our friendships in the Pacific so that a handful of farmers can save a few dollars by treating workers like serfs.”

The National Farmer’s Federation’s executive director of workplace relations, Ben Rogers, said in response to Walton’s comments: “Once again, Mr.

“The farm visa will be very actively regulated and only available to farms that can satisfy the government that engages with their workers in a fair and legal manner.”

Sherrell believes that while the past few years have been tough for labor-intensive farms, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s a balancing act, and I’m afraid that if we go too far down the path of trying to solve everything with more people and more visas, it will lead to more exploitation and in the long run, to a less productive way of doing things.

“I think when the borders return to normal there will be a pent-up demand for backpackers to come to Australia.”


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.