Seasonal Work Incentives Trial- what the bloody hell happened?

December 7th, 2020 | | WHV

Tough sell to Aussie workers

Even before COVID-19, attempts to get out-of-work Australians to take up farm jobs through cash incentives have often flopped.

The Coalition Government’s $27.5 million Seasonal Work Incentives Trial, which offered out-of-work Australians on welfare an extra $5,000 per year to pick crops, found placements for fewer than 500 people despite budgeting for 7,600 positions.

The Victorian and Western Australian agriculture ministers have been lobbying the Federal Government to let people who are receiving JobSeeker payments to continue to get that money even if they are working in low-paying farm jobs.

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said she believed it would help resolve the potential labour shortage crisis this harvest, but was frustrated the Federal Government had not yet considered the proposal.

“We think that it’s not going to cost any additional money, and if we don’t do it we simply aren’t going to get the people out there doing the job,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“Who knows, it might be the thing that eventually inspires people. This might be a long-term alternative [to the farm labour shortage problem].”

Workers harvesting cauliflower in the early morning on a farm at Werribee.
There are growing concerns that this summer’s harvest will be in disarray if international workers don’t arrive.(ABC News: Jess Davis)

Federal Labor agriculture spokesperson Ed Husic backed the calls by his state labour colleagues.

“If the states have put forward this idea in terms of JobSeeker I can see the attractiveness of it,” he said.

“Can the Government just please get out and tell us what their view is?”

Mr Littleproud said it was a “long bow” to expect dual payments, through JobSeeker and farm work, to be enough for urban jobseekers to uproot themselves.

He said many unemployed people were not prepared to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres from their home for work due to things like family commitments.

“This is why we’re not putting all our eggs in a basket of incentives [programs] that we’re putting up because I think it will have only so much success because of the demographic of our society,” Mr Littleproud said.

The Agriculture Minister said cash incentive programs were only meant to complement existing measures to address the potential worker shortage, such as the restart of the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme.

Call for Pacific travel bubble

AusVeg is calling on the Federal Government to consider including Pacific island nations with no COVID-19 cases in the trans-Tasman travel bubble that already guarantees quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders coming to Australia.

a worker in the field picking raspberries
Tasmania will receive 700 seasonal workers this month from Pacific nations.(ABC Rural: Laurissa Smith)

Analysis by consultancy firm Ernst and Young puts the worker shortage nationwide at 26,000 — a gap which AusVeg says could be better and more quickly filled by some of the 22,000 visa-ready workers from Pacific Island nations who are being held up by various quarantine restrictions.

“We think that is a step in the right direction,” the firm said.

While Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa have recorded recent COVID-19 cases, countries like Nauru, Tonga, Kiribati, Micronesia, Palau, and Tuvalu have not.

Currently, Pacific island workers are allowed into the country provided they quarantine as per the rules of the state they are arriving in.

However, who pays for that — the worker, the farmer, the state government, or a combination — has been a source of contention which has delayed significant planeloads of workers.

“The states have agreed that they want to handle their own quarantine process … but what that’s done is really add another layer of bureaucracy in terms of hoops in which growers and industry needs to jump through in order to bring in these workers from COVID-free nations,” AusVeg’s Tyson Cattle said.

Tasmania is due to receive 700 workers this month after the State Government there agreed to foot the bill for hotel quarantine, while workers and farmers will share the cost of the chartered planes to get them there.

The Home Affairs Department said that 953 Pacific workers have arrived in Australia as part of the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme since they restarted in August, far short of the 26,000 shortfall the horticulture industry has predicted.

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow