Two academics from the University of Adelaide Law School, Associate Professor Joanna Howe and Professor Alex Reilly, have co-authored a new report examining labour supply challenges in the Australian vegetable industry. The report, ‘Sustainable Solutions: The Future of Labour Supply in the Australian Vegetable Industry’ was commissioned in 2016 by Horticulture Innovation Australia and was jointly authored with two scholars from the University of Sydney Business School, Associate Professor Diane van den Broek and Dr Chris Wright.
The report finds that there are significant and endemic labour supply challenges facing vegetable growers in Australia. With the declining interest of local workers in doing low skilled picking, packing and grading work, many growers are heavily reliant on overseas workers to meet their labour needs. The report’s authors surveyed 332 vegetable growers, with two thirds of these indicating difficulty in obtaining pickers, packers and graders. At some point in the last 5 years, 40% of growers have experienced occasions where they simply could not get enough workers. Although many of these growers responded to this challenge by seeking help from friends and family and others tried improving wages and conditions to attract more locals, a significant number – 63% were forced to leave vegetables unpicked because of a lack of available workers.
The Sustainable Solutions report proposes a new reform package aimed at beginning a conversation amongst growers, unions, government and other stakeholders to begin looking at more sustainable and targeted ways to meet the industry’s labour supply needs.