Farm labour shortage myth exposed again

The claim that Australia’s farms are facing massive labour shortages due to an unwillingness from Australians to do the work has been exposed by the New Daily:

Unemployed Australians say they are struggling to get farm work and are dismissed as ‘lazy’ by employers, despite the industry complaining of a massive shortfall in workers.

The revelations come as the National Farmers’ Federation lobbies the federal government to allow backpackers into the country to work as au pairs and harvest labourers, fearing the farm industry may have a shortfall of 20,000 workers.

But some Australians say they are finding it impossible to get work on farms and are faced with unnecessary barriers, like being forced to stay in expensive accommodation.

Lukus Muir is a fit 34-year-old… Since March, Mr Muir has applied for more than 20 farmhand jobs but has not landed one. He said employers outside Victoria have not wanted to take him, and those inside the state have strict rules about staying in local hostels.

“They say our contract stipulates that you have to stay at the hostel…

“I have extensive experience in hospitality and fruit and veg supply, but the minute I tell them I have my own accommodation it is the last I hear from any of them.”

Mr Muir lives out of his van and says the going rate for a hostel bed is between $150 and $300 a week.

“They want to take it directly out of your wage,” he said.

Mr Muir said several farmers told him flat out they won’t hire Australians.

“I’ve been told from a couple they’re worried that, as an Australian, I’m going to be lazy. One told me he doesn’t employ Australians because they tend to be scared of hard work,” he said.

“I’m not as exploitable as a foreigner… I’m not scared of hard work,” he said.

“Now they’re talking about fast-tracking Pacific Islander workers and that’s fine, and all power to them, but if they won’t even consider an Australian employee who’s willing to work, then it leaves some questions.”

There is abundant evidence that temporary migrants have been ruthlessly exploited on Australia’s farms. That’s the whole idea. But it’s not optimal from a wages or productivity perspective.

Australia’s mining industry is world class and attract workers to godforsaken places by paying excellent wages.

Cut off the migrant slave labour pipeline and Australian farms will be forced to raise wages. In turn, this will drive farms to automate and lift productivity, boosting both profits and wages.

However, if the government allows farms to continue relying heavily on cheap foreign labour, then capital will shallow, productivity will stagnate, and both wages and profits will decline.

There’s a reason why farms in advanced nations are more likely to involve a handful of workers operating heavy machinery, whereas in low-wage developing countries farms are manned by many workers doing manual labour.

The higher cost of labour in advanced countries forces farms to invest in labour saving machinery, which lifts productivity.

If farm margins are so weak then they should be forced to consolidate, driving economies of scale, improved productivity, and higher profit margins.

The key ingredient for Australian agriculture to flourish is productivity-enhancing automation, not migrant slave labour.

Unconventional Economist
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