Australia’s fruit industry is in desperate need of workers to pick up the slack after backpackers exited the country in droves during the coronavirus pandemic.
And the Victorian Government has now launched a new scheme to sweeten the deal – and lure in local pickers.
With farmers unable to fill the vacant positions left by foreign workers on international working holiday visas, the Government is hoping locals will step up to fill the gaps this season.
With most of the work located in Victoria’s Shepparton and Goulburn Valley regions, potential workers are invited to apply for Government Relocation Assistance, which is worth up to $6000 for Australian job seekers and up to $2000 for international job seekers.
Those who relocate to take up the short-term agricultural positions – for a minimum of six weeks – are eligible.
Fruit Growers Victoria is urging people to get a fruit harvesting job this summer amid fears crops may go to waste if not enough workers come forward.
“Our usual workers that are essential in ensuring our seasonal fruit crops are available in supermarkets and markets are gone,” said Michael Crisera, growers services manager at Fruit Growers Victoria.
“The Victorian fruit industry is at risk and the repercussions of not having enough workers will not only impact the farmers themselves but the consumer. The consequences will be significant wastage, lack of income for the growers and rising prices for customers.
“No experience is needed to work on the Harvest Trail and there are different jobs across the season such as fruit picking, packing, thinning and pruning. It is a great opportunity to experience regional Victoria, try new things, learn some new skills and meet new people.”
So how much could you actually stand to earn?
Mr Crisera told news.com.au there were many different factors at play when it came to calculating a typical fruit picker’s wages, including the volume of fruit picked, the crop in question and the individual farm’s going rates.
But he said under the Horticultural Award 2020, the fixed minimum wage was $24.80 per hour, while those being paid “piecework” – according to how many bins of fruit they pick in a day – would make a minimum of $40 per bin.
The average competent picker will earn at least 15 per cent more on a piecework rate – the method which is most common within the industry – than on the hourly award rate.
An average, competent worker could expect to pick four to five bins’ worth of fruit over the course of an eight-hour day.
By those calculations, a worker could make a minimum of $200 a day, or $6000 over a six-week stint, with Mr Crisera noting that some more productive pickers could earn up to $320 a day, which would add up to $9600 after six weeks.
He said it usually took pickers a few days to get into the swing of things, and urged those tempted by the offer to stay for at least a few weeks in order to help out and discover whether the work was for them.
“Don’t be scared – we want people to come and give it a go,” he said.
He said the industry had always been affected by labour shortages, but that Australia’s backpacker population had fallen from an average 150,000 to under 50,000 during the pandemic.
Mr Crisera said the government scheme was a great incentive and explained pickers would have to register before actually starting work.
Fruit grown in Victoria that requires harvesting this season includes nectarines, peaches, plums, pears and apples.
No experience is necessary, but applicants will need to be physically fit and healthy and have a positive attitude.
A typical day will be 7am-3pm or 6am-2pm, but can be longer depending on the weather and fruit.
Some employers will supply accommodation with charges usually applying, while alternate accommodation options include caravan parks and backpacker hostels.
Graduates, those who have recently lost their job and people looking for a new experience or work avenue are encouraged to apply.
Harvesting will start in mid-January and last until autumn, and there may be opportunities for some workers to stay on to do pruning and general farm jobs.
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