6000 jobs up for grabs in sweet strawberry deal
Sunshine Coast Daily – 26th May, 2016
SUNSHINE Coast residents will be head-hunted for thousands of jobs normally filled by visitors to the region under a plan launched today.
In a bid to protect themselves from the Federal Government’s promised ‘backpacker tax’, strawberry farmers have pledged to give more than 6000 jobs to locals this picking season.
The Sweetest Job campaign, powered by The JobShow, and will connect Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay residents with thousands of jobs in their respective regions.
It’s the start of picking season, and Bli Bli strawberry farmer Rob Edwards, of Jedaco Berries, is nervous.
Mr Edwards said since he started his 17-acre farm six years ago, he had relied on travellers with working visas – a phone call to the nearest backpackers’ hostel would get him all the talent he needed.
But if the Federal Government goes ahead with its plan to remove the tax-free threshold for people working in Australia temporarily, his business would be in trouble.
“The backpacker tax, that’ll wreck us – that’ll be the end of us if they bring that in,” he said “We just won’t be viable.”
He said if a group of three or four locals could come back to his farm every year, he would have a more secure workforce, while creating reliable seasonal income for Coast residents.
Bli Bli resident Brendan Pricketts, 23, said working on the farm was a great gig. He’d previously moved to Brisbane to find work, but found work at Jedaco Berries when he was 21.
Mr Pricketts had coached Mr Edwards’ son who played in a local football team. He’d always worked on farms, so when he was looking for something local he gave “Bob” a ring.
“A lot of people don’t like the hard work but it’s not too bad,” he said. “It’s good for exercise.”
He agreed many people on the Sunshine Coast care about supporting local farms, and said they should consider a job on one.
“Get out here and give us a hand,” Mr Pricketts said.
Queensland Strawberry industry development officer Jennifer Rowling said the Sunshine Coast comprises about 40% of strawberry farms in the combined region, and locals stand to benefit from 2400 jobs.
The strawberry industry had been under increasing threat for a number of years, she said. Strawberry production is one of the most labour intensive horticultural crops.
“We would love to see The Sweetest Job initiative raise awareness of the employment opportunities for locals in the strawberry industry and provide our growers with quality local employees who will hopefully become a returning workforce,” she said.
Sunshine Coast Council partnered with Moreton Bay Regional Council, the Food and Agribusiness Network, Regional Development Australia Moreton Bay, Growcom, and Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, to create the campaign.
“The Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay regions represent 80% plus of the state’s strawberry production, and strawberry growers in these regions employ 6000 to 8000 pickers and packers at peak times around August and September,” economic development portfolio councillor Stephen Robinson said.
“So the aim is to gain a returning workforce of local employees rather than a backpacker ‘one season only’ workforce, reduce re-training costs and drive job creation within the local economy.”