Horticulture

Harvest Trail Services will secure seasonal workers

By Jamie Salter

A multi-million program hopes to encourage more Australian job seekers to take up seasonal harvest jobs in major horticulture regions across Australia, including the Goulburn Valley.

The $24.1 million Harvest Trail Services program will cover 16 horticulture regions, with 11 operated by MADEC — including Shepparton, Echuca, Wangaratta and Bright.

MADEC Mildura Harvest Trail manager Gavin Krake said new incentives would help keep Australian workers in horticultural jobs.

“For harvest officers, the new contract provides a payment for placing job seekers into work, and a further payment for keeping them employed for a number of weeks,” Mr Krake said.

However, Mr Krake said filling positions would remain a challenge, as an increased payment rate under the JobSeeker scheme meant less Australians seeking work in horticulture.

He said those looking to join the horticulture industry should complete training or a qualification to fill higher-skilled positions.

“A lot of the jobs are seasonal and Australians prefer ongoing work, and that's where the more skilled positions come into play, as they are longer-term.”

National Farmers Federation chief executive officer Tony Mahar said farmers were concerned by a reduction in backpacker numbers this year, which could be filled by unemployed Australians.

“Farmers certainly have the work on offer and Harvest Trail, with the help of accredited labour hire organisations, can assist to match job seekers with farm jobs,” Mr Maher said.

“Even before the challenges of COVID-19, research found that more than 40 per cent of farmers experienced workforce shortages during seasonal peaks.”

Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the program expansion would ensure major horticulture areas have access to the workers they need.

“Employer demand for harvest labour services is strong, with more than 23,000 placements achieved in 2019 to 2020,” Senator Cash said.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said it was crucial to support farmers and growers to get the workers they need to meet seasonal labour demand.

“Maintaining domestically grown food supplies is essential to Australian families and to our economy,” Mr Littleproud said.

To fill vacancies, job seekers, growers and contractors can phone the Harvest Trail Services national communications centre on 1800 062 332 from 8 am to 11 pm Monday to Friday, for assistance.

For more information, visit: jobsearch.gov.au/harvest