Backpacker tax; 60 pickers short; apples unpicked; grower to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars

April 3rd, 2017 | | industry

Tasmania’s namesake crop could be withering on the branch as a lack of labour hits growers in the region. The thought of apples falling to rot on the ground is one most don’t want to contemplate. But it’s a real risk in coming days for local grower John Brown (pictured). He says he is 60 pickers short and if he can’t get the apples picked stands to loose hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mr Brown puts the responsibility firmly at the feet of the government and the uncertainty caused by the backpacker tax. He says it’s a disgrace.

And the plight of Sassafras Orchards and Mr Brown is no doubt shared by others in the region and around the state. The usual flow of people to pick at this time of year is just not out there. And while those in the know can’t directly attribute it to the Turnbull Government’s ‘backpacker tax’, they say the long term indecision could not have helped. Government representatives can’t say they weren’t warned this would be the outcome.

The threat of the change in the tax regime for workers visiting from overseas seems to have been enough. Farmers went as far as packing their bags and heading to Canberra to talk with those making the decisions and try to ram home what it would mean. For growers like Mr Brown, it could cripple their business long term, as regular buyers turn to alternatives to find what they are after. They may never return.

Certainty of supply is crucial for people in the food industries. The expansion of crops such as berries has no doubt contributed to the shortage. But peak body Fruit Growers Tasmania says it has never been this bad. And it could be safely assumed that the tax changes are the major new factor in the lack of workers.

The situation for those needing seasonal workers is yet to be settled, with a proposed amendment coming to provide incentive for people on benefits such as Newstart and Youth Allowance to take up the slack on farms. But this won’t happen until at least July, which is way too far off for Mr Brown and others. It’s unlikely Tasmania’s Liberal senators will be out there sleeves rolled up, but that’s about the only help they can offer Mr Brown at this dire stage of the season.

Visitor numbers are up, but spend is flat and length of stay is dropping. Evidence suggests they are coming, but not staying and in some cases not working. This is having a directly negative impact on areas reliant on said ‘backpacker labour’. Jackie Lambie, Independent Senator for Tasmania knew it, this is her state, and fortold it in Parliament. But the short-term tax needs of this Liberal Government took precedence. Now farmers like John Brown will pay the price. Have your say

Sourced by Chris Harrison

Source: The Advocate

4 Responses

  1. John George says:

    Backpacker tax – minor reason.
    Piecework rates – major reason.
    Scams, mistreatment and bad publicity – major reason.

    Backpacker Facebook sites are full of bad work experience stories, real and imagined, but taxation is not one of those topics.
    Backpackers, many of whom are their own worst enemies, feel exploited by piecework rates where they rarely make much money for a variety of reasons, fear not getting their 2nd visa unless they are getting paid $22.13 per hour for 7 hours minimum a day because Immigration are tightening up on this and talk about being told there will be work when there is none.
    So the Government may hold some of the blame, but in my view it is really the industries – horticulture, labour hire and accommodation who need to stand up and either out those who are dragging everyone down, or look in the mirror and start obeying the law …

  2. Chris Harrison says:

    Ok, thanks John. So what we need to know is if John Brown pays his staff by hourly or piece rates. If piece rates then it adds cred it John George’s argument that this is the major issue. If he’s paying hourly rates then there are other issues.

    The key problem is though that backpackers are being taken advantage of, they have had enough and are using Facebook to fight back. As these are forums, chat rooms and messages they are off the radar. But this doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

    So is the government (part from denying visas due to lack of hours or pay) or industry going to do anything about it, or does the decline and exploitation continue?

    Have your say, make this an issue, help fix the problem.

  3. Dave says:

    Pay peanuts, get monkeys.
    Pay apples……….. get nobody

  4. Suzi says:

    I think John Brown looks like he is being pushed towards a dodgy contractor – someone who will bring on all the workers he needs, someone who undoubtedly will have illegals in his group, someone who will not pay Super or Workcover. But you know what – Farmer Brown will have all his apples harvested before they rot on the ground.

    When farmers are under pressure they take desperate measures.