As it stands at this time, millions of dollars' worth of fruit and vegetables could be left to rot in the field, with the industry facing a severe shortage of workers. Growers are calling for rapid, drastic changes to the JobSeeker scheme to encourage Australians "off the couch" and into work.
Gavin Scurr, managing director of Sunshine Coast's Pinata strawberry farms, said he feared for the next season. "So far we've had enough people looking for work. However, we've seen a noticeable drop off in the last week," he said. "Our concern is that in the next few weeks, when we need a lot more people in the industry, whether they're actually going to be around looking for work."
Mr Scurr said coronavirus travel restrictions combined with the JobSeeker payments meant not enough people were willing to work on farms. "The JobSeeker being doubled has removed the incentive for people to come out and do work," he said. "I guess that's what's got us concerned. We've also got a lot less backpackers which are typically the bulk of our workforce."
Bree Grima, managing director at Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers, said the situation was the same across Queensland. "At the moment there seems to be enough payments for them to not need to go and seek additional work," Ms Grima said.
Likewise, farmer Brett Simon said he was concerned at the lack of interest in regional jobs from local workers. "There could be a lot of people from Brisbane coming out 40 minutes and getting full time work rather than sitting at home getting JobSeeker," Mr Simon said.
Also, 9news.com.au reported that Agriculture Minister David Littleproud agreed, saying farmers in regional areas couldn't compete with the $1115 a fortnight JobSeeker payment.