Farmer voices concern about labour supply

WORK: Picker Gauri Rai, Mountford owner Hugh Mackinnon, berry coordinator Steve Barnes, operations manager Tim Smallbon and berry coordinator Jay Molloy at Mountford Berry Fruits. Picture: Neil Richardson
WORK: Picker Gauri Rai, Mountford owner Hugh Mackinnon, berry coordinator Steve Barnes, operations manager Tim Smallbon and berry coordinator Jay Molloy at Mountford Berry Fruits. Picture: Neil Richardson

Labour hire companies are reporting registrations have dramatically declined for the upcoming picking season in Tasmania, says Mountford property owner Hugh Mackinnon.

“We are making quite a lot of bookings with labour hire companies and their comments are, in general, the registrations have been 40 per cent lower than last year,” Mr Mackinnon said.  

The long battle over removing the $18,500 tax free threshold and introducing a backpacker tax that is not competitive with neighbouring destinations like New Zealand and Canada is what Mr Mackinnon attributes to the decrease.

The federal government originally proposed removing the tax free threshold and taxing backpackers 32.5 per cent, but on Tuesday a revised tax rate of 19 per cent was announced. 

New Zealand offers people on a working visa earning less than $14,000 per annum an 11.95 per cent tax rate.

Fearing there will not be enough workers for the picking season, Mr Mackinnon has worked with labour hire companies and local sources of potential employment to put a labour management plan in place for his farm.

“We need (the state) in excess of 10,000 backpackers and that is going to be extremely difficult to source,” he said.

“The worst case scenario is the picking of fruit at its optimum stage might not occur and the worst case is fruit will rot.” Mr Mackinnon said he always sources local workers first but picking season for soft fruits is six months and requires workers seven days a week. “Soft fruits are a major growth businesses in Tasmania and they need facilitation at all three levels of government.” 

This story Working tourists will be ‘hard to source’ first appeared on The Examiner.