Desperate farmers are calling for jobless Australians to help them pick fruit usually harvested by backpackers as coronavirus restrictions threaten their crops.
With thousands of people left jobless by the coronavirus, temporary fruit-picking work can rake in big dollars for those willing to travel.
One top picker brought in $3800 for one week of work recently at Pinata Farms, in Wamuran, Queensland, as farmers pay top dollar, fearing they will otherwise have to leave unpicked fruit to rot.
Pinata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr said a portion of his strawberry and pineapple crops had to be destroyed due to a worker shortage and called for Aussies to help pick fruit
Italian backpackers, Lorenzo Scalesi (left) and Elena Frazzetto (right) pictured on August 5 at Pinata Farms, Wamuran, during winter strawberry season. Coronavirus restrictions have reduced the number of backpackers and foreign fly-in workers at the farms
An unnamed Bundaberg grower has allegedly destroyed half his strawberry crop, while other growers fear they won’t be able to harvest fruit, according to industry group Berries Australia.
Pinata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr said a portion of his strawberry and pineapple crops had to be destroyed due to lack of labour this year.
The the bulk of the temporary workforce was usually backpackers, however Coronavirus travel restrictions have reduced backpacker numbers by more than 60 per cent, he said.
Strawberry picking at Pinata Farms – good workers can make $3000 a week with the top worker earning a whopping $3800 in one mammoth six-day 10-hour per day week
So farmers are now calling out to Australians to go bush and help them harvest fruit.
‘There is this perception that fruit picking provides poor wages but that is simply not true,’ Mr Scurr told the Courier Mail.
‘We recently paid a worker $3800 for a week’s work recently and that is a top picker working six days a week, probably around ten hours a day, but even when you look at it as an hourly rate, that is pretty good.’
FIND A FRUIT PICKING JOB HERE
Fruit picking jobs can be found at:
Fruit Picking Jobs website
Backpacker Jobs Board website
‘It’s all about attitude _ there are the real guns who just get right into it and make it a competition, with themselves and with the other guns,’ Mr Scurr said.
Mr Scurr said it was not rare for good pickers to earn $3000 per week.
He said farmers will accommodate good workers who want flexible hours.
Fruit-picking work is seasonal, physically strenuous and often far from large population centres meaning farmers need to pay a premium to attract workers away from their homes to the work.
Temporary visa workers have flown in from overseas to work in recent years along with backpackers who are travelling the country, however this has been restricted by the pandemic.
Australia’s official unemployment rate edged up to 7.5 per cent in July however economists believe the real figure is closer to 10 per cent, ABC News reported.
Australians made jobless by the pandemic have reported applying for jobs alongside up to 1500 other desperate applicants, as the nation slipped into its first recession in 30 years.
The call for fruit pickers comes after the National Farmers Federation put out a 10-point plan to the Federal Government asking them to bring in more foreign workers.
Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the industry group had been calling for measures to address the farm worker shortage since before the pandemic.
‘The situation is now much worse with Australia’s international borders closed and internal border movement highly restricted,’ he said on Friday.
Pictured: worker Sam Storey packing strawberries at Pinata Farms, Waruman, Queensland, on September 4. Farmers are keen for city folk to come out and help them pick their crop
Pinata Farms strawberries. Farmers are worried their crops will be left to rot unless they can get enough fruit pickers, and have called on the Federal Government to subsidise accommodation and to re-start fly-in foreign seasonal workers on a special Agricultural Visa
‘Ideally, this year we’d like to see Australians, especially those who have been displaced from their pre-pandemic jobs, fill roles performed by backpackers and seasonal workers, but the reality is more support is needed to attract the required number of local workers.’
The National Farmers Federation Horticultural Council called on the Federal Government to provide accommodation support for temporary workers, restart the Working Holidaymakers program, and introduce an Agricultural Visa.
NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION 10 DEMANDS FOR GOVERNMENT
The National Farmers Federation is influential in the National Party, which is part of the Federal coalition government along with the Liberal Party. The farmers lobby group has called for 10 measures to help farmers get the workers they need at a rate they can afford
1. Seasonal Worker Program Pilot Extension
2. Incentives for domestic displaced workers
3. Agricultural Workforce Code introduction
4. Promotion of opportunities to work in agriculture
5. Accommodation support
6. Establishing a National Agricultural Workforce Development Network
7. National Labour Hire Regulation
8. Working Holidaymaker Restart
9. Agriculture Visa
10. Horticulture Industry Labour Agreement (HILA) additional occupations
Source: NFF website