Bonus payments offered for farm work
The Victorian Government has offered more support for the state’s horticultural industry, providing an additional $19.3 million to encourage locals to take up farm work, and to cover the majority of the quarantine costs for Pacific Islander workers. Jobseekers who take up seasonal work will be eligible for bonuses of almost $2500, with the government providing over $10 million to urge jobseekers to give farm work a go and boost local workforces.
A big pay day, but you need to stick it out
The Seasonal Harvest Sign-on Bonus will be provided in two payments. The first $810 will be paid after two weeks of farm work; a further $1620 is paid after an additional six weeks. Workers need to complete at least 10 days’ work within a one-month period to receive the first bonus; at least another 30 days within a three-month period for the next payment.
“It’s a big day’s work, but the reward can be just as big,” says Victorian Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas. “The sign-on bonus means jobseekers can take home almost $2500 on top of their wage.”
To maximise take-up of the sign-on bonus, industry groups that support growers in priority harvest regions will receive funding for additional staff and resources. This will come through a $1 million Seasonal Workforce Industry Support grant program. The funding aims to bolster the capacity of these groups to provide dedicated seasonal workforce support to their members. In addition, it will help businesses to attract the workers they need.
Too little too late?
While many growers have welcomed the news, for some the chance of extra hands has come too late. Harvests such as pears and stone fruit have come to an end. The state has lost many crops as growers wait for Pacific Islander workers to come out of quarantine.
Leaving unpicked crops to rot has also increased the risk of Queensland fruit flies in the region. A risk already compounded by La Nina’s wetter weather, it’s a situation that horticultural entomologist and fruit fly expert Andrew Jessup has called a “perfect storm”. Cobram and District Fruit Growers Association President Tony Siciliano says he fears the combination of factors could lead to a Queensland fruit fly “tsunami”. This will only add another heavy blow to an already beleaguered industry.
Growers to share quarantine costs
The Victorian Government will cover most of the cost associated with quarantining up to 1500 Pacific Islander workers under a deal struck with Tasmania. However, growers must pay $2000 of the $7200 cost of isolating and quarantining each worker.
“We’ve said from the start that while Pacific Islander workers will be important to the harvest’s success, it’s not a silver bullet,” Thomas says. “We’re doing all that we can to help our farmers get their produce to market. But we need a national approach.”
For details about how to apply for the farm work sign-on bonus, visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/bigharvest