Politics

Everyone Is Laughing At The Ag Minister For Thinking Fruit Pickers Make $3,800 A Week

"Remember the needle thing? You could probably sell those for scrap metal."

fruit picking

People are lining up to call bullshit on our Agricultural Minister, after he told 2GB radio that people are routinely making $3800 a week picking fruit in Queensland.

Since Australia’s borders slammed shut Australia has seen a major shortage of fruit pickers, since farms often depend on backpackers who need to complete farm work to extend their working holiday visa. The labour shortage has created a big problem for growers, with some forced to destroy crops that go bad before they can be picked.

It’s led to the government encouraging young people to head to rural Australia to take up work opportunities on farms — and now Agricultural Minister, David Littleproud, is trying to make it sound more enticing by claiming people could be making almost $4,000 a week in the fields.

The figure presumably came an interview with Queensland strawberry grower Gavin Scurr, who told The Courier Mail the perception that fruit picking provides poor wages is simply not true.

“We recently paid a worker $3800 for a week’s work recently and that is a top picker working six days a week, probably around ten hours a day, but even when you look at it as an hourly rate, that is pretty good,” he said.

When it comes to fruit picking payment is often tied to the amount you pick, rather than an hourly rate.

That figure seems like an incredible anomaly when compared to the consistent reports of worker exploitation on some farms. It’s so widespread it even inspired a hashtag, #88DaysASlave, referring to the 88 days that first-year working holiday visa holders must work in a regional area before they can extend their visa. The government even accepted the findings of a report that found labour hire companies for the industry had “systematic problems with exploitation“.

Still, in an interview with 2GB Littleproud said those “poor cases” are in the minority.

Littleproud has also said the government is looking at a number of programs to encourage young Aussies to work on farms.

“We’re going to see a lot of Year 12 students finish in a couple of months and they’re not going to have the opportunity to go backpack around the world, there may be an opportunity to backpack around the country and make a quid while they’re doing it,” he said.

“Also there’s university students who’ll finish in a couple of months, the opportunity for then them to go and work in agriculture and make a quid over the summer holidays and then go back with some dollars in their pocket and have a better time when they go back to uni.”

Previously the government ran the Seasonal Worker Incentives Trial, which offered welfare recipients $5,000 cash if they signed up for local harvest jobs. The take up rate was less than five percent.