Victorians will be offered a cash bonus of almost $2500 to pick fruit, but they will have to stick it out for at least six weeks to access the full amount.
The latest scheme to encourage domestic workers to take up jobs on orchards comes after the industry repeatedly raised fears about masses of fruit going to waste due to a shortage of backpackers and foreign seasonal workers.
The government estimates the cash incentive scheme for Victorian workers will cost $10 million.Credit:Justin McManus
Victorians who take part in the new state government scheme would have to complete 10 days of work within a one-month period to receive the first bonus of $810. They would get a further $1620 after six more weeks of work, as long as it is completed within three months.
The state government has also confirmed that fruit and vegetable growers would have to pay $2000 per worker to help cover the cost of quarantine under a separate plan aimed at attracting 1500 Pacific Islanders to the industry.
It said applications for “three planeloads” of foreign workers were under way.
The government estimates the cash incentive scheme for Victorian workers will cost $10 million, in addition to the $7.8 million it committed to the quarantine agreement for Pacific Islander workers struck with the Tasmanian government.
Victorian fruit growers will have to pay $2000 towards quarantine costs for each Pacific Islander worker under the latest scheme to attract seasonal staff. Credit:Justin McManus
Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said the cash offer would help give more people a better understanding of how their food was produced.
“We know we need more Australians on farms. We know that often when people end up on farms and they’re paid right they find it’s quite an enjoyable place to be,” she said.
“Compared to working on a production line inside a factory or in an office, you’re out in the beautiful fresh air and the elements.”
Ms Germano said it was dangerous for Australia to be entirely dependent on foreign workers to carry out work so crucial to its food production industry.
“There are lots of reasons why being solely reliant on the migration workforce is risky,” she said. “It comes down to the whim of immigration policies at any given time.”
Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano. Credit:Jason South
The cash offer comes after the state government last year launched an advertising campaign to attract grey nomads, students and migrants to the industry.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the Pacific Islander program was important to the success of this year’s harvest, but it was no “silver bullet”.
“We’re doing all that we can to help our farmers get their produce to market – but we need a national approach,” she said.
However, unions have long raised concerns that poor pay by some growers, physically taxing working conditions and dangers on farms are among factors that have dissuaded local workers from taking up jobs in the industry.
RMIT urban and regional planning expert Andrew Butt said a lack of good-quality housing in some regional and rural areas made it difficult to attract domestic workers.
“They’re pretty tight markets,” he said. “Often much tighter than parts of inner Melbourne would be.”
Associate Professor Butt said previous cash schemes designed to attract people to regional Australia had brought “muted” success.
Ms Germano agreed housing shortages presented a challenge, but said hostels that were largely empty could be used until longer-term “commercial solutions” were found.
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