It is citrus harvest time and many growers in Sunraysia are on their knees.
This year’s yield has been astounding. The export market is looking positive, despite ongoing global shipping constraints. But there is one critical ingredient missing: workers.
Growers are paying up to $400 per day for workers to pick 10 bins. In a week, pickers can earn $2000. These wages point to desperate times. If you like, it’s a pickers market.
Our citrus industry is worth $520 million. But if the crop falls to the ground, it is worth zero.
Worker shortages are not a new problem, and there is no silver bullet. The Labor Government now has the responsibility to find and implement solutions. Having scrapped the Coalition’s Ag Visa (all but in name), they must step up to resolve this issue. Now borders are open, what visa changes will they make? Will they keep the Coalition’s incentives for Aussies to travel to harvest regions?
I’ve worked with local growers for a long time on this issue. I know they want practical solutions. I will continue to hold Labor to account to step up for our farmers.
I have invited the new Minister for Agriculture, Murray Watt to come to Mallee and see the workforce shortages with his own eyes, and the devastating impact on our horticulture industry. I fought for the Ag Visa, for pathways for undocumented workers, for incentives for Aussies to become part of the harvest labour force, among other policy levers to improve accountability and conditions for farmers and workers – and I will continue to do so. This issue won’t go away after harvest. Indeed, it won’t be long before labour is required for stone fruit. Solutions must be found.
This week, I posted job ads on my Facebook page as a call to arms for the citrus industry. In just over a day, I had an overwhelming response from people all over Australia offering to help – an encouraging sign.
If you or someone you know are looking for work, please visit https://jobsearch.gov.au/harvest/search and pinpoint Sunraysia on the map.