Relax dole rules to give Aussies a chance to work on farms

17 Jul 2020

Senator Nick Xenophon and his colleague for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, have called for an urgent change to ‘inflexible and punitive’ welfare rules that are currently discouraging young unemployed Australians from doing seasonal work on farms. The move, if implemented, will alleviate the looming labour crisis on farms this summer because of the Governments backpacker tax.

Farmers across the country are concerned that fruit will be left rotting on the ground this summer because the Government’s backpacker tax has already scared off backpackers from coming to Australia in coming months.

“Even if the backpacker tax rules are reversed today – which seems highly unlikely – the damage has already been done. Too many backpackers have decided to go elsewhere – such as New Zealand – where they won’t be slugged with such a high tax rate,” Nick said.

The solution proposed by NXT is to give greater flexibility to current welfare rules. Present rules only allow Newstart recipients to earn $104 a fortnight before being hit with a reduction of 50 cents in the dollar for extra dollars earnt before benefits cut out at $1023 a fortnight for a single person.

A credit system for seasonal work under current rules only allows Newstart recipients to accrue 1000 credits or 3500 credit Newstart recipients.

Under the proposed changes – that are being put to Deputy PM and Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and Social Services Minister, Christian Porter:

• Jobseekers can work for up to 8 weeks on seasonal agriculture work and earn up to $5000 without any penalty;
• Job service providers would get a small incentive to place jobseekers for the seasonal work (currently they only get a fee after 13 weeks of job placement);
• Jobseekers having to travel more than 100 km and having to relocate temporarily will receive a $300 relocation allowance at the end of their stint

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said: “We need to address the work force shortage that our local growers experience during harvest time. With the uncertainly surrounding a backpacker tax, we have developed a seasonal regional employment strategy for Government that will encourage unemployed people to take on short term fruit picking work and assist the horticulture and viticulture industries to address the ever challenging issue of finding enough hands to get fruit into the packing shed. This is a win-win for farmers and for local employment”

“Our plan gives unemployed Australians the opportunity to ‘taste’ work in primary production without fear of losing unemployment benefits. We are assisting farmers to access a wider pool of casual labour though the Job Active program, which for many unemployed Australians could likely lead to on-going work on the land”.

“We believe we have created an employment strategy that will address the barriers many unemployed people experience in relation to taking on short term work as well as increase the casual workforce pool for farmers who need every pair of hands working at harvest time.”

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