JOBSEEKERS and school graduates have been recommended to move to regional areas to on farm work usually done by backpackers, but some are sceptical whether the idea could bear fruit. Picture: Felicity Ripper
JOBSEEKERS and school graduates have been recommended to move to regional areas to on farm work usually done by backpackers, but some are sceptical whether the idea could bear fruit. Picture: Felicity Ripper

How high school graduates could earn $300/day in rural towns

IT SEEMS one of the great ironies of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia - Thousands are out of work yet farmers are struggling to get workers for their harvests.

The federal government has suggested jobseekers and high school students to travel to regional areas and work on farms in the coming months to fill the gaps left by international workers, but it's not a solution that Gayndah and District Fruitgrowers Association secretary Judy Shepherd believes will bear fruit.

The National Farmer Federation has also called for the government to consider relocation and accommodation assistance to encourage younger Australians to head to rural regions.

"In an ordinary year, farmers rely on a combination of local and foreign labour to get the job done," NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.

"Ideally, this year we'd like to see Australians, especially those who have been displaced from their pre-pandemic jobs, fill roles performed by backpackers and seasonal workers, but the reality is more support is needed to attract the required number of local workers."

While it seems a simple and effective solution to the problem, Ms Shepherd was sceptical about the logistics.

While most of the harvest work was done for the year in the North Burnett, Ms Shephard said it remained to be seen how the farm work will be done in 2021.

"We'll have to wait and see, but I imagine it'll be quite challenging and I'm not confident that a group of young people is necessarily the solution," Ms Shephard said.

But it's not the willingness or aptitude of young workers she doubted, but what she described as "structural issues" in the region that would make the scheme difficult to work.

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Accommodation for workers was one of the major hurdles facing any scheme to bring local works to the region - and Ms Shephard said even relocation assistance payments wouldn't solve the problem.

"(It would work) only if it's going to build them a house," she said.

"There's only a limited number of accommodation in smaller towns."

Transportation from towns to farms would also be a major concern, and Ms Shephard said many farmers would be uncomfortable employing school leavers under the age of 18.

But when asked what the better solution would be, Ms Shephard said the industry didn't know yet.

"But then we're not being asked for solutions either," she said.

"We're being offered solutions that aren't quite as practical as, and they first appear.

"Offering people a subsidy to move here and do that is certainly better than nothing but I'm not sure that's going to solve the problem."

But with good fruit pickers potentially making up to $300 a day in the North Burnett, some young jobseekers might make the move anyway.

For those that were up for the challenge, Ms Shephard encouraged them to explore the idea.

"They need to be resilient, they need to be resourceful and they probably would want to do it as a part of a couple or group because it can be a bit lonely," she said.

"It's certainly worthwhile … it's not incredibly glamorous … but you made a lot of really interesting people from all over the world."

Before taking the plunge potential workers should find out about the region they were travelling to, and ensure they had accommodation before arriving.