The jobs no Australians want: Hundreds of roles are left vacant and farms left to rot despite the biggest dole queues in the country since 2001
- Australian farmers are bracing to lose millions of dollars worth of crops left to rot
- The number of backpackers who normally fill produce picking jobs has dropped
- Politicians say it is uneconomical for Aussies to relocate to fill regional positions
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Unemployed Australian workers are unwilling to move huge distances to do farm work meaning many crops will be left to rot in fields.
Desperate farmers are unable to get the labour they need to harvest their crops despite soaring unemployment amid the coronavirus crisis.
David Littleproud, the Agriculture Minister, said that farmers were unable to compete with the government’s generous JobSeeker payment of $1,115 a fortnight.
The labour shortage is usually filled by backpackers but their numbers have halved from 180,000 to 90,000 and are set to fall even further as Australia’s borders remain closed.
Farmers are bracing to lose millions of dollars worth of crops as their workforce, largely comprised of overseas travellers, continues to dwindle in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (stock of a woman picking grapes)
‘Our preference is for an Australian to work, particularly if they’re unemployed,’ Mr Littleproud told the Courier Mail.
‘But in essence, the challenge that farmers have, they can’t wait for someone to know if they want to do this work.’
Australia’s unemployment rate surged to 7.1 per cent in May – the highest in 19 years as COVID-19 wreaks a trail of economic devastation that could last two years.
New Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed 227,700 people lost their job or gave up looking for one last month, following the second full month of coronavirus shutdowns.
The official number unemployed, where recipients are either receiving the dole or looking for work, rose in May by 85,700 to 927,600 – a 30.9 per cent increase compared with a year earlier.
The agricultural industry managed to stave off disaster during this year’s first picking season when the government extended the time for holiday worker, Pacific Island worker and seasonal worker visas in exchange for labour in essential services.
However, as the number of visa holders plummet farmers face the loss of millions of dollars in the next picking season from September to March.
In May, it was estimated almost one million Australians have become unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Pictured are hundred of people queued outside Centrelink in March
JobSeeker recipients receive $1,115 a fortnight, the equivalent of $111.5 a day, while produce pickers on average earn between $20 to $25 an hour, some farms offer workers as little as $10 an hour or less.
Mr Littleproud said he is working with the industry to find ways to maintain a sufficient workforce.
LNP Senator Susan McDonald said the vacancy issue, in some cases, is not an ‘unskilled workforce, but an unwilling workforce’.
She said it would be hard to convince Australians to move geographically and economic modelling was needed to determine where resources should be allocated.
Farmers avoided financial catastrophe during the first picking season early this year after visa holders were offered incentives to remain and work in essential industries
‘We need to map out what overseas seasonal workforce remains in the country, what the requirements are in different parts of the country and when they are needed throughout the years,’ Senator McDonald said.
Sunshine Coast based Pinata Farms’ Gavin Scurr said they are now beginning to feel the drop off in workers.
‘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.