Fruit picker shortage starts to hurt Tasmanian producers

Seasonal worker shortage worries Tasmanian fruit producers

SLIM PICKINGS: John Brown anticipates problems at Sassafras Orchards in the coming months due to a fruit picker shortage. Picture: Cordell Richardson

SLIM PICKINGS: John Brown anticipates problems at Sassafras Orchards in the coming months due to a fruit picker shortage. Picture: Cordell Richardson


Tasmanian fruit producers express concern over picker numbers ahead of autumn crops.


Sassafras fruit grower John Brown anticipates a tough season ahead as Tasmania’s fruit picker shortage starts to bite.

Cherry picking begins at Sassafras Orchards within the next fortnight, but Mr Brown said it would be autumn fruit picking when he really started to feel the pinch.

“We’re hoping to get backpackers from the Devonport hostel,” he said.

Producers around the state are now picking summer cherries and berries, with most sourcing enough staff to cope with demand, but autumn fruits need a much bigger workforce.

“We will need about 120 pickers in March and April and I think we’re going to have problems,” Mr Brown said.

When the backpacker tax was introduced in 2017, the federal government’s Seasonal Work Incentives Trial was supposed to soften the blow by encouraging jobseekers to take up seasonal horticultural work.

However, Mr Brown experienced fruit picker shortages last season before the tax was introduced, as backpackers started shunning Australian working holidays when the idea was first touted.

“Last year we were desperate and put a sign out on the road and we got a few pickers.”

“I reckon it’s going to be a real problem,” he said.

Mr Brown said Sassafras Orchards was not involved with the trial.

Other Tasmanian producers have have found alternative methods to find workers.

Beauty Point cherry orchard owners Tim and Annette Taylor advertised through Tasmanian Agricultural Jobs to find staff.

The Taylors are not participating in the trial program.

“We had to fill the positions through an agency. This year was the first time that we've had to do it as we usually employ local people,” Mrs Taylor said.

On the other side of the Tamar, Lees Orchard owner Brendon Morrison employs two permanent casual staff at his Dilston apple, pear and cherry orchard and hires an extra six pickers during apple and pear season.

He has enough applications from potential pickers without needing to go through an employment agency or join the trial.

“We employ a mix of backpackers and locals. At the moment we have a Polish girl and some Bhutanese, plus some local guys,” Mr Morrison said.

“I deal direct with the [applicants]. They come to me from the website and I screen them myself,” he said.

Under the trial jobseekers can earn up to $5000 from seasonal work without reducing their Newstart and Youth Allowance payments, with 28 Tasmanian job seekers starting horticultural work as part of the Seasonal Work Incentives Trial since July 2017.

A further 18 job seekers have been referred to a trial placement and are expected to start work, a Jobs and Small Business department spokesman said.

“So far, five trial participants have remained in employment after the trial period ended,” the spokesman said.

“The department employs a comprehensive communications strategy to engage with job seekers and make them aware of the opportunities and benefits available to them through the Seasonal Work Incentives Trial, with data indicating referrals to the trial in Tasmania are twice the number of any other state, as at end of December 2017,” he said.

The trial is managed by jobactive, Transition to Work and Disability Employment Services, with 25 Tasmanian employers registering vacancies.


This article first appeared on The Advocate


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