September 25, 2020
Senator Susan McDonald has put out a call for an army of “weekend warriors” to join a countrywide effort to pick crops, warning Australia is facing a fresh food crisis as demand for seasonal workers outstrips supply.
She said the situation was so desperate some North Queensland farmers had resorted to advertising on Facebook for people to just work weekends as casuals for about $25 an hour.
She said school leavers and the unemployed should sign up for full-time picking work to ward off a catastrophe.
“This is serious, your country needs you, and picking crops can earn you good money while you adventure around the State – think of it as a national service,” Senator Susan McDonald said.
“I can’t stress enough how dire the situation is. Anyone who joins this effort can be proud in the knowledge they stood up to help their country in its time of need.”
She said the Federal Government had relaxed visa rules for backpackers wanting to stay longer in Australia if they were willing to work, and recently facilitated the arrival of 160 workers from Vanuatu to pick the Northern Territory mango crop.
But, she said, industry estimated 2000 workers were needed in the Territory alone, not to mention the workforce needed for the impending North Queensland mango and lychee season.
“Even with that influx of 160 from Vanuatu, the amount of fruit picked was only 10 per cent of what will be picked at the height of the season,” Senator McDonald said.
“I’ve been told of a farmer near Emerald in Central Queensland who has removed 100ha of citrus trees because of labour shortages, and he plans to remove 60-80ha more if the situation isn’t rectified.
“I’m also aware of a producer in Tasmania ploughing in 400 tonnes of leafy vegetables for the same reason.
“The consequences of this labour shortage are threefold: we will face increased retail prices, crops such as blueberries and lettuce will be left in the fields, and crops won’t planted for next year.
“There are also the added biosecurity risks associated with importing food we would normally source domestically, as well as the hit to our trade income from exports – income that will help us climb out of recession.
“In light of this, it’s important that we continue supporting the Pacific Island workforce program and I encourage any Australian interested in earning good money working outside to register on the government’s Jobsearch and Harvest Trail websites or approach job agencies in farming areas.
“People can also look around social media for farms offering casual work on weekends. It’s not easy work, but it’s good money and you’re doing something important for the country.”