New plan to fill harvest jobs

By Country News

Jobseekers are being urged under a new Morrison Government scheme to take up work on farms or face losing their welfare payments for up to a month.

Under the arrangements, farmers can register their job requirements, pay and conditions with the National Harvest Labour Information Service and job providers will try to find local unemployed to fill the positions.

If jobseekers don’t have a reasonable excuse for not accepting the work they can have their income support benefits reduced or withdrawn for up to four weeks.

‘‘While we’re tackling the labour shortage this also ensures job seekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities,’’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said of the scheme.

However National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson has slammed the government’s ‘‘carrot and stick’’ push as a ‘‘shallow approach to a deep problem’’ and says industry has long called for a dedicated agricultural visa.

‘‘Many agricultural tasks are short-term or seasonal. Often these arrangements aren’t attractive to local workers, who have ongoing financial commitments and longer term career aspirations,’’ Ms Simson said.

Labor is also critical of the announcement, with agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon calling it a stunt to distract from broken visa promises.

‘‘The last thing growers need is people who don’t want to be there,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.

‘‘This is from the bloke who introduced a backpacker tax.’’

Mr Morrison denied the scheme introduced changes to how people could lose access to welfare payments — currently after three instances or three jobseeker demerits in six months.

He said International Development Assistant Minister Anne Ruston would be working over the next couple of weeks to ensure any relevant changes were made to the Pacific Islander scheme.

Mr Morrison also said he would be working with Immigration Minister David Coleman across possible changes to the working holiday visa program.