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Seasonal labour in the fruit industry

ABC Rural 

By Clint Jasper and Sophie Malcolm

 

It’s hard work, there are very early starts and it’s not exactly glamorous.

As citrus seasons ramps up, there’s tonnes upon tonnes of fruit across the Riverland and Sunraysia waiting to be picked, packed and sent to market.

And all over the region, farmers are looking for workers to do just that.

Last week, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz suggested an answer to youth unemployment might be for young people to take up jobs picking fruit.

On paper, it seems like the perfect fit – there are a lot of people who need a job and a lot of fruit to be picked.

But in reality, there’s another group of people who want to do the same thing.

For years, backpackers have traipsed the well-trodden path into rural and regional Australia, looking to make some money, save cash and extend their visa.

About five years ago, the Federal Government introduced a program that allows travellers from participating countries to stay in Australia for longer, if they do 88 days of ‘rural work’- paid employment in a rural postcode in a specified industry.

That’s how Amy Davis found herself in Mildura.

At home in England, she works as a medical receptionist, but at the moment she’s packing mandarins to get her 88 days completed.

“I think everyone sort of enjoys it and gets on with it and knows that they’re not going to be here forever,” she said.

Scott Cameron, from not-for-profit employment agency MADEC, says the changes to the visa system have also vastly changed supply and demand.

“Since the introduction of that program, we just don’t have the labour shortage that we had five, six, seven, eight years ago,” he said.

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