Young Australians should consider taking a gap year to pick fruit and vegetables because it would make a great “Instagram moment,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said.
“If you know somebody who might be on the coast, who might be lounging around with a surfboard, tell them to come to the regions,” he said on Wednesday. “Bring their mobile with them because it would be a great Instagram moment for them to get up the tree to pick some fruit.”
The comments come as Australia’s state and federal governments try to get university students and school leavers to take up farm jobs as it grapples with a shortage of seasonal labor, which industry groups warn could result in produce being left to rot and higher grocery costs.
Australia’s borders remain mostly closed to international workers, while domestic border restrictions introduced to stem the spread of COVID-19 have limited local worker mobility and exacerbated the shortage.
The country’s horticulture sector is to face a shortfall of 26,000 workers in the coming six months, a Ernst & Young report said, adding that the shortage might also hit the grains harvest.
“Usually at this time of the year, there are about 140,000 backpackers in Australia, 30 percent of which are employed in agriculture. Right now, there are only 67,000 backpackers in the country,” Australian National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said in a statement.
The shortage could see some growers left with no option but to plow “ripe crops back into the ground,” Mahar said.
Industry groups are calling for Canberra to consider urgently restarting a program to allow overseas workers to enter the country to fill the gap.
The Australian government is considering incentives for workers on unemployment benefits to take up farm labor, as well as scrapping an age limit on its working holiday visa to allow people aged 31 and above to continue to work in agriculture, the Australian newspaper reported.
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