If you’re wondering why there’s a labor shortage in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, check out some of the jobs on offer in the state and what they pay:
- State Agriculture Award $25.89
- National price $26.70
- Advertised grain harvester $29.00
- Country bar job advertised $29.50
- Perth Bunnings $29.99
- Cricket Car Parking Coordinator, Venues West $35.60
- Wheatbelt trash can liners $37.00
- Pool deck supervisor $37.27
- Dump Truck Operator Trainee (Native Identified) List 2:1 $49.00
- Perth Road Train Loader $55.00
- Esperance MC Driver Extraction $59.86
- Mechanic HD Port Hedland List 2: 1 $68.00
- Pilbara Skilled Excavator, Motor Grader, Dump Truck Posts 2:1 List $60-$80 h
- Goldfields Entry Level Driller Offsider (Assistant) $110,000 – $130,000 + Bonuses + Super
- Pilbara Dump Truck Operator no experience required 2:1 listing $161,000+ super
When I see agricultural job advertisements offering the WA State Award (individual businesses) or the Federal Award rate (corporations), I wonder what kind of people they hope to attract.
We know backpackers are returning in droves, but the job market is still incredibly tight and working holidaymakers know what the market pays.
Don’t think they can’t understand that working the summer at the Byron Bay pub or Yallingup at $28 an hour could be more rewarding than working the harvest at Beacon or Yealering at the Award rate.
I will try to make the case that we need to increase what we pay, but also make sure that we provide an interesting and safe experience so that we can grow the pool of working holiday markets who will consider working on grain farms.
Let me start by telling the story of a recent encounter with a few commercial pilots who recounted their experience working on WA farms driving hunt bins during the 2020 and 21 harvest when Covid grounded them.
Unfortunately, they weren’t impressed with our industry at all, pointing out a long list of flaws, starting with non-existent or second-rate security systems, unclear daily guidelines, undefined schedules, grumpy and intolerant bosses, not to mention pay rates (for them last year) of $28 an hour to drive expensive machinery.
These pilots were not valuable wowsers, all three had risen through the ranks flying light aircraft for small charter companies working in the North West. They had spent their time sleeping in garlands and dongas and working long hours for struggling small businesses.
Although we pride ourselves on not being part of the horticultural industry – which has a bad reputation for labor exploitation – it is disappointing to hear that some farmers are out of step with the expectations of the employment community, which undoubtedly contributes to our inability to attract and retain staff.
Unfortunately, as with Qantas or Jetstar flights, we all judge the airline on our last flight, the delay of the plane, the quality of the food, the attitude of the hosts and the loss of your luggage. As an agricultural industry, we are also collectively judged by backpackers and the word is spreading fast.
Just as Alan Joyce is under the pump to up his game, if we are to attract and retain staff we need to be aware that workers are talking, they know who pays what and what else is on offer down the road.
It only took me 10 minutes to scour the various job websites (Seek, Gum Tree, FaceBook, Jora, etc.) to compare what’s on offer as casual jobs. And believe me, there are a lot of them.
I suspect the corporate farm currently offering $56,000 for full-time farm workers and $69,000 for a truck driver will struggle with the $161,000 for a 2:1 slate at a mine or $110,000 for a novice drilling assistant.
I won’t comment on Native ID other than to wonder why they don’t also offer it to those who identify as female, anyway I think I’m eligible.
Before Covid we were getting 40,000 Brits, 25,000 Germans, 20,000 French, 10,000 Italians, Irish and Canadians, plus another 100,000 across Asia eligible for working holiday visas, all of whom were targeted by farmers to do seasonal work.
Only 20% will travel to Western Australia. Many workers who don’t speak English well or are intimidated by large machinery or large enclosures end up working in the horticultural sector, leaving only a small percentage available for the grain industry.
Even when the total number of approximately 200,000 417 Working Holiday Visa and 462 Working Holiday Visa holders returns, they will be all over social media figuring out who is offering the highest paying jobs in which industries ( care for the elderly and disabled; agriculture, forestry and fishing; construction; mining, tourism and hospitality).
Whether it’s pulling beers at OBH or making beds at a BHP mine site, money, work or location can be the deciding factor.
Housekeeping jobs at a mine site pay $35-45 an hour with good housing and food, but cleaning toilets and living with a group of miners isn’t quite the same as drive a big tractor and bond with a farming family.
The decision becomes much easier if the work on the farm is offered at a price higher than the allotment rate.
To attract workers in a competitive market, farmers must pay a competitive rate and do more than just post an ad on Facebook. They have to sell the experience of working on their farm, introduce themselves, post photos and videos of the family, the accommodation, the farm dog and the big tractor. The videos work a treat.
Some farmers are getting very sophisticated in how they market themselves to working holidaymakers, New Zealanders, etc. and, therefore, they attract highly experienced agricultural workers.
Although we all know that the mining industry has to pay a lot of money to attract and retain workers, life in a mine is not fun; working night shifts for 2 weeks straight or working in 46 degree heat in the Pilbara is tough.
They can have a lot of money because they actually earn it.
But the wage disparity is killing our industry, so we need to get closer to what they offer and focus on the positive side, which is the experience and challenge of working on a farm.
This is not to say that all farms offer reward rates and poor conditions, I hear stories of super organized farmers offering high quality accommodation for the occasional, housekeeper to cook meals and laundry, fixed locked hours, days off, good equipment and security systems and professional management.
Some pay up to $50 for experienced drivers and $150,000 for full-time supervisors. They’re probably out of top money by 20% but they’re not far off the mark.
It is not surprising that these farmers do not suffer from labor shortages.
They hit the dots that they can’t afford to employ inexperienced staff to drive headers that can’t be replaced or repaired if bent badly. Those who employ backpackers with no farming experience make a serious effort to do farm safety inductions and provide good training.
Some outsource their induction and training programs to put a little rigor into their security system, others use work2farm to act as a broker to find, train and eliminate the unnecessary.
When the cost of buying a failed tractor or truck without a mechanic doing a pre-purchase check can mean the difference between a dud and a good buy, the cost of a hiker whose brains n Being unfit to work on a farm can be just as important. Dear.
Looking back, I suspect the farmer who employed these airline pilots during Covid didn’t realize what an asset they were. You don’t have to be Alan Joyce to understand why Qantas is paying top dollar for its airline pilots. The cost of a single accident is not worth the risk of cheap employees.