Grocery shocker: Lazy Aussies the reason prices to double
A shortage of farm workers could start to bite at the grocery check out by Christmas, growers say, as shock new figures show jobless Aussies can't even be paid to move out to the regions for work.
Data reveals for the first time that a generous incentive, that pays long-term unemployed Australians up to $6000 to move to a regional area, was only taken up by 233 people across the country last year, including 84 in Queensland.
It is compared to the predicted workforce shortage of up to 71,000 people, according to industry analysis, as backpacker workers continue to leave the country during the COVID-19 crisis.
Industry figures fear the shortage will hit consumers' hip pockets soon, including Suncoast Fresh wholesaler Graeme Twine who said his growers estimated consumers would start feeling the price pinch by Christmas.
"There is stuff in the ground now that will probably be ready for Christmas, so whether they can get it out is up to how many pickers they can get," he said.
Rocklea wholesaler and berry farmer Noel Greenhalgh said he expected summer fruit crops could increase in price by 50 to 100 per cent.
Fullerton Farms boss Ken Fullerton said he would love to hire more Australians, but locals were not applying.
"We live close to Caboolture, which has high unemployment, and there's not many people coming out here looking for work," he said.
Growcom CEO Richard Shannon said incentivising Australians was the industry's "best shot", among other measures like more Pacific workers and incentives for backpackers to stay, but the JobSeeker subsidy was acting as a disincentive.
"We've had reports of long-term Australian employees leaving horticulture because there was only $200 difference between the work and JobSeeker," he said.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash is urging Australians looking for work to consider relocating if need be, as the economy opens up again.
The Relocation Assistance allowance pays $6000 for someone to relocate to a regional area, if a jobactive participant has been unemployed 12 months or more, with a work placement of at least six months at 30 hours a week.
There are about 500,000 eligible participants for the payment, but just 233, or one in 2124, took it up in 2019-20.
Senator Cash said the government was considering options to encourage more Australians into agricultural work.
"As the economy reopens and more jobs become available, Australians looking for work should consider relocating to get their next job," she said.
"Our recovery will depend on as many Australians getting back into work."
The Courier-Mail reported last month that Australian Fresh Produce Alliance modelling estimated Australians could have to fork out up to 60 per cent more for fresh produce, as shortages force shops to rely on imports.
The Federal Government has implemented a range of measures to address the workforce shortage, including extending visas for backpackers and trialling bringing in seasonal workers from COVID-safe Pacific Islands under strict quarantine rules.
Originally published as Grocery shocker: Fruit and veg prices to double by Xmas