In the next few months, the need for seasonal workers in the fruit and vegetable industries is going to rise quickly.
Usually these jobs are filled by working holidaymakers - backpackers - or the seasonal workers program. But with international travel restrictions in place, the number of overseas workers available has dropped dramatically.
Australian Fresh Produce Alliance chief executive officer Michael Rogers says across eight major horticultural businesses, they had 23,000 inquiries about work with only eight per cent of those from Australians.
At the same time, despite the government moving to extend visas for backpackers and seasonal workers in April, the numbers of people across these two programs remaining in the country has dropped by 42 per cent.
Worst case scenario, if all the backpackers leave, we could lose 80 per cent of the seasonal harvest workforce, fruit falls to the ground and supermarket prices jump.
The NSW citrus industry has already experienced tension when many of the workers they required for picking were left on the wrong side of the Vic border, and ripe fruit does not wait for a 14-day self-isolation cycle.
The issue with finding Australian workers often lies with where these jobs are located. They're usually in rural and regional areas, which may not be where the unemployed workforce lives, and the decision to relocate for work can be a difficult one, particularly during a pandemic.
The AFPA has made several suggestions to the federal government, including the creation of a potential $1200 relocation payment, paid after 12 weeks' work.
The NT and federal governments have also just launched a pilot program to bring in 170 workers from Vanuatu to help ease the pressure of the mango harvest, which is due to begin next month.
In SA, the state government has established a seasonal jobs website with the campaign tagline 'if you need jobs, we need you'.
Nationally there is also harvesttrail.org.au.
Either way, we've got just months to find workers to replace a huge missing workforce and if we don't solve the problem, we'll all be paying for it - literally.
- This newsletter was written by Stock Journal reporter Elizabeth Anderson,
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