'Root problem': Growers, opposition knock government's labour plan

'Root problem': Growers, opposition knock government's labour plan

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HELP US: Gippsland vegetable grower Kane Busch, Busch Organics, Lindenow, was forced to destroy $150,000 worth of celery last week because he did not have the labour to harvest it.

HELP US: Gippsland vegetable grower Kane Busch, Busch Organics, Lindenow, was forced to destroy $150,000 worth of celery last week because he did not have the labour to harvest it.

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Growers forced to destroy crop due to labour shortage.

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The Opposition has lashed out at the state government over its "glossy advertising campaign" created to help primary producers find seasonal workers during the coronavirus border shutdown.

Nationals leader and opposition spokesman for agriculture Peter Walsh said the Andrews Government was the "root of the problem" preventing seasonal workers from getting into Victoria.

This week the government confirmed fewer than 100 people had found jobs in agriculture using Working for Victoria, the program behind The Big Victoria Harvest recruitment campaign.

But the government claimed the figure did not reflect the total number of seasonal work jobs available or filled as the program was just one of several platforms used to hire new workers.

"For example: a farm may have 30 positions to fill; advertise all 30 on Working for Victoria, Harvest Trail and the local newspaper; and fill 10 roles using each of the three channels," a state government spokeswoman said.

But Mr Walsh said the program was flawed and failed to address the ongoing labour shortage in Victoria and was hurting the hip pocket of farmers.

"Farmers are already ploughing produce into the ground because they can't get the workforce they need, yet Daniel Andrews' only solution is a glossy advertising campaign that's done nothing to actually get workers on-farm," Mr Walsh said.

"It's a slap in the face to every single Victorian farmer that Daniel Andrews can find a way to get 1200 players and staff in for the tennis, but refuses to adopt industry's plan to get seasonal workers on-farm."

Working for Victoria has more than 700 agriculture jobs listed and 27 businesses with open jobs advertised.

The government said The Big Victorian Harvest webpage had received more than 80,000 page views to this week and prior to the campaign launching the page had 164 page views during one week in November.

Grower destroys $150,000 worth of celery due to labour shortage

Gippsland vegetable grower Kane Busch, Busch Organics, Lindenow, was last week forced to destroy his entire celery crop worth $150,000 because he did not have enough labour to harvest it.

He said travel bans due to COVID-19 were causing enormous headaches for growers like him across Victoria.

"We've had to select which crops we harvest," Mr Busch said.

"Our workers are working seven days a week and we can't fulfill our orders in time.

"It means our crops exceed their maturity and they fall out of specification."

Mr Busch is a fourth-generation farmer and this year the family enterprise celebrates 100 continuous years of growing row crops.

He said the government's Working for Victoria program failed to live up to expectations and secure essential labour on the ground.

"It hasn't had the impact (the government) hoped it would and we have not had one person come forward and say they are relocating to our region through the program," Mr Busch said.

"There's a fifth of the seasonal workers that are normally here and 60,000 less backpackers so how can you fill that void?

"It costs us more to have seasonal workers on our farm than it does locals and the notion of farmers underpaying and exploiting workers is garbage and only reflective of a minority of farmers."

Trial to attract people from CALD backgrounds

In the Goulburn Valley, a trial is underway to attract new workers to the region for the seasonal fruit harvest which commences next week.

To date, close to 900 people have registered to take part in the Harvest Trial, but Fruit Growers Victoria grower services manager Michael Crisera said that did not necessarily translate to on-the-ground jobs.

"If we can get just 10 per cent of those registrations then we'd be happy," Mr Crisera said.

"We're trying to encourage people to give it a go for two weeks and we'll provide them with on-farm training to teach people how to pick fruit."

The Pick Shepp program is ran by Fruit Growers Victoria and the Greater Shepparton City Council and supported by state government funding.

One area of focus for the program is to target people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in Melbourne.

"We're prioritising the smaller growers who have their own accommodation and they pay the workers directly," Mr Crisera said.

"This is a trial and by the end of the season we will know how well it has worked and what the retention rate is but we think this is a great opportunity for people to earn some money and have fun doing it."

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