Work goes begging as welfare trial fails

A TRIAL allowing dole recipients to earn thousands of dollars without losing a cent of welfare has been a spectacular flop, and will not be rolled over in the May Budget.

The two-year Seasonal Work Incentives Trial was capped at 7600 placements but was spectacularly shunned by unemployed Australians, with just 404 welfare recipients lured by the extra cash to work on Australian farms.

In a multi-pronged trial to give those on Newstart and the Disability Support Pension new skills, boost their income plus link horticultural farmers to desperately needed labour, the scheme allowed job seekers to earn up to $5000 a year without losing any of their welfare.

Eligible participants also received an annual $300 in a living away and travel allowance if they travelled more than 120km to take on the work, such as harvesting crops, planting, packing and canning and thinning/trimming flowers.

The trial closed in June and would likely have been expanded or continued if it was a success. It comes at a time of high youth unemployment and farmers screaming out for workers.

The outcome is no surprise to Scenic Rim vegetable grower, Kalfresh director Robert Hinrichsen, who has to employ overseas workers to pack his carrots because he cannot get enough locals.

Director of Kalfresh Robert Hinrichsen on his farm in the Scenic Rim. Picture: Peter Wallis
Director of Kalfresh Robert Hinrichsen on his farm in the Scenic Rim. Picture: Peter Wallis

"We want to employ locals but they just won't do it. We used to have a lot more locals but it's a different generation now,'' Mr Hinrichsen said.

He said packers received $25 an hour to work in an airconditioned shed.

"The problem is the government pays them (unemployed Australians) not to work."

He said the attitude of younger workers was different today.

Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said there were jobs going begging.

"What the findings show is that there are jobs out there for those who want them,'' Senator Cash told The Courier-Mail.

"As Employment Minister, my role is to get every Australian who is willing and able into a job.

"As a Government, we are doing everything to try and get people into work and off welfare. We have an economy of opportunity and employers are screaming out for workers who are eager for a job.

"Our focus will always be to get people off welfare and into work."

One third of Australia's fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are produced in Queensland. Horticulture is the state's second biggest and fastest growing agricultural sector and contributed more than $3 billion to the State's economy in 2018/19.

Agforce chief executive officer Michael Guerin said access to a reliable and suitably skilled workforce was the biggest single issue facing Australia's agriculture industry.

He said it was a major handbrake on its plan to become a $100 billion industry by 2030.

"We are surprised and very disappointed that the Seasonal Workers Incentive Trial has not been a success, because agriculture is a dynamic, exciting, innovative and well-paying industry,'' Mr Guerin said.

Growcom spokesman Richard Shannon said a focus on casual labour shortages sometimes obscured the career opportunities available in an "exciting industry at the doorstep of technological innovation".

"Not only does the horticulture sector offer good money for willing casual workers but it also opens the door to rewarding, long-terms roles using a range of technologies and sciences not seen in other industries.

"The seasonal nature of horticulture and a transitory workforce means it can be hard at times for farmers to find reliable workers during peak harvest."