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Never mind the farmers, what about the workers?

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Since the crippling frost of 25th September across the North East of Victoria, the effects of the drought and the shutdown of the tobacco growing industry in 2009, we have been bombarded by press reports of assistance required for the affected farmers.

British Tobacco have offered a $10 million exit package from their contracts and the Federal Government is assessing further asiistance to the tobacco industry.

The State Government has provided an indirect $5 million assistance package to the Goulburn Valley fruit growers and is expected to lodge a claim for “Exceptional Circumstances” to be declared and the Federal Government has shown its willingness to help.

Sophie Mirabella is seeking Federal support for the King Valley grape growers whose crops have been decimated by the frosts.

This is all good work and will help many farmers whose livelihoods have been threatened. But, nothing has been said about the casual work force that keeps these industries running.

Every vineyard, orchard and tobacco plantation has a core group of casual workers who tend the crops thoughout the year. They are the skilled people who work on a day to day basis. In peak periods such as pruning and harvesting, extra manpower is required and seasonal workers are recruited.

Over recent years, foreign workers have been organised into contract teams and the government has extended visa privileges to help meet the shortfall during these periods.

With the breakdown of the horticulture industries in North East Victoria, it is time for a re-think on the casual labour force for the future prosperity of the region.

With 125 tobacco properties, 75 King Valley vineyards, and as yet an uncounted number of frost damaged orchards, there will be several thousand trained local casual workers displaced. Do they simply go on the dole?

Maybe, as the work runs out, they could come together to form a work-cooperative to ensure what work does exist, goes to local residents rather than to foreign contract labour. The local economic benefits would be immense. Money earned locally is spent locally.

As reported in The Chronicle (6 Oct 06), the Rural City of Wangaratta has just announced a taskforce to help address our rural crisis consisting of agribusiness, council, industry, and business representatives – no mention of the casual labour workforce.

During the Great Depression, records show that the Shire of Wangaratta developed a program to help its residents find work during those hard times. The RCoW could show great leadership in doing the same over the next few years. If left to the government sponsored employment agencies, it would never work.


Written by Greg Naylor

7 October 2006 at 10:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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