Trial for fruit pickers to keep their benefits kicks off

Greg Mouat of Mouats Farm said any measure that gets more Australians into the workforce will be a good thing.

A government trial that allows job seekers on welfare to keep receiving benefits while undertaking seasonal fruit picking work is due to kick off in Tasmania next week.

Employees would be able to earn up to $5000 before losing their unemployment benefits under the trial, which begins on July 1. The idea is remove the disincentive for them to lose their benefits while working for a short period only to undergo the whole process of getting back onto Centrelink again once the source of income dries up. If the trial is successful then the federal government will move forward with the policy.

The trial isn’t taking place in Batlow, but grower Greg Mouat said that “if it gets people into the workforce then it’s a good thing.”

The vast majority of the apple orchard’s employees come harvest time are international backpackers with very few locals or wider Australians putting their hands up for the work. Mr Mouat said he thinks there’s a variety of factors as to why that is.

“Perhaps over the years successive governments have made it too easy for people not to have to work,” he said.

“It’s a very, very difficult issue. The issue remains that benefits perhaps are too easy to get, and that’s a disincentive for some people to look for work.

“I think you’ll find that some people aren’t prepared to travel for work, either. If they live in a city and there’s fruit picking in Orange or Batlow young people may not have transport, accommodation is an issue, and they may not be willing to leave home. There’s more than one reason.

“Backpackers on the other hand are happy to pile into an old van and off they go. Maybe more young Australians need to have the attitude, I don’t know.”

The trial was first floated during discussions around the backpacker tax, when farmers around the country feared they wouldn’t have the workforce to bring their harvests in.

However, Mr Mouat said that after an initial slow period, once the government got their act together and settled on a fair tax rate for the backpackers, the season wasn’t too badly affected by the new tax for backpackers completing seasonal work.

“Now that the tax has been sorted out I think there’s more certainty for international travellers that they will get work and not be taxed to the hilt,” he said.

“Earlier on there just simply weren’t the people; there was a significant drop off, but as the season progressed there seemed to be a lot more young European and Asian travellers looking around looking for work. By that time the tax issue had been sorted so there was a bit more certainty.”