Relocation policy on the run

The Government’s Relocation Assistance to Take Up a Job scheme – to provide a financial incentive for people to relocate to rural areas to take up seasonal work on farms – has failed to deliver any meaningful impact with just 871 Australians receiving funding.

The initiative is another example of poorly thought-through policy being implemented without consultation with those most likely to benefit from the scheme.

Tim McGlone, writing for The Guardian, takes a look at seasonal fruit picking and his experiences in the Margaret River. Tim highlights a crucial detail: applicants typically have no guarantee when they set out to relocate whether or not they will receive the grant. As a result, recipients are less likely to be people who really need it, and more likely to be those able to afford to take a $6,000 risk. Our most vulnerable workers can’t afford that kind of risk. They can’t afford to arrive and be told they need to work their first shifts for free to prove they can do the job. They can’t afford to be assigned to the poor quality areas where rates will be lower on a per-piece basis because they turned down the supervisor’s sexual advances… 

Back in October when Michael McCormack was touting the new scheme as an opportunity for quality Instagram content, questions were raised about rates of pay, worker conditions, and stories of exploitation of workers in some sectors of the agricultural industry. This scheme has done nothing to address those concerns, and even less to address the needs of farmers across the country whose supply of itinerant workers was cut off by the COVID pandemic. With the sector short an estimated 26,000 workers, delivering 871 workers is roughly on par with the vaccine rollout.

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