Best practices around managing harvest labour for fruit growers
Plan labour requirements early
Clearly communicate safety instructions
Establish direct relationships with workers
HARVEST is a busy and stressful time. That is why it is important to implement some good practices when it comes to sourcing and maintaining labour, to make this process run as smoothly as possible, rather than have it add to your stress.
Try to plan early and work out what your needs will be and how you plan to source labour. Use the resources available such as your local Harvest Labour Office, National Harvest Labour Information Service, advertising in your local paper, online and don’t forget the power of social media.
If you have a rough idea of how many pickers you will need and when (try to work off previous seasons), it will help you secure some people ready to start rather than scrambling at the last minute. Keep in mind other growers will also be searching for staff around the same time as you, so the quicker you can lock in people for your farm, the better.
If you source labour through a contractor, it is important to not distance yourself completely from the recruitment process or from workers on your farm. Staff like to know who owns the farm they are working on and appreciate feeling valued by managers and supervisors as well as knowing that you are approachable, even if they are not hired directly by you.
Small acts of kindness or thoughtful gestures go a long way when motivating your workers. Something as small as a BBQ lunch or providing icy poles on a hot day can give employees a great experience when working for you, which then generates boundless word-of-mouth not only for your farm, but the region as well.
Do not under estimate the power of word-of-mouth, especially if you source labour from backpackers. There are many online platforms that backpackers communicate on when looking for work or sharing experiences from working in Australia. You can contribute to these platforms and help build a positive image for the industry and your business which, will attract workers.
Using backpackers for labour is an effective way to get your fruit off the tree, particularly when you need large numbers of pickers for short periods of time. To apply for a second year working holiday visa, backpackers must complete 88 days’ work in a regional area, in a farming environment. The harvest season is a popular way to achieve these days, however, backpackers do move around a lot and if you have breaks within your harvest period, they will often move onto another farm or region rather than waiting around.
Look to locals
Many farms are again looking at locals to fill ongoing positions within their orchards. There is often a stigma that local Aussies don’t want to do the work orchards have available but this is not always the case. Especially in regions with a large multi-cultural community, you can often source hard-working employees for ongoing roles on your farms.
The seasonal work can sometimes cause problems for residents as they will often find other ongoing employment during your down time and be unable to return. Many farms we are working with are looking at putting more time and money into upskilling labour that live in their region. By training people who want to remain in the region, you can support their future career options such as working their way into supervisory and manager roles because when these roles are required, they are often very difficult to fill successfully.
Traineeships for young people looking for a career is a popular option as it gives the employee a qualification as well as on-the-job experience all while earning a pay check each week and don’t forget our grey nomads travelling the country looking for some extra cash!
Keep people safe
Having a safe workplace is very important when sustaining labour on your orchard. Employees will be turned off your farm if, on arrival, they see long grass between trees or faulty equipment. You should always provide an informative and specific induction when you have new staff starting on your farm that covers how they are to perform their job safely and effectively, how to refrain from damaging fruit, where facilities are, and any other relevant information for working on your orchard.
Clear communication is a must. Ensure that on your staff’s first day that all parties are clear on everything including expected hours, pay rates, what they will pick, what fruit you need them to pick (whether it is colour picking, strip picking or you only require a certain percentage off the tree), as well as how long you are expecting your harvest to last and any expected breaks. This way you can plan out when you will need to ‘top up’ numbers throughout the season. The majority of the negative feedback we get from labour stems from confusion around expectations that were not explained prior to starting work.
The smoother you can make your recruitment process; the better off you will be getting your fruit off the tree when you need it. Valuing your workers goes a long way to making your season a fruitful one.
To find out more contact Reginna Vasi, Harvest Officer, MADEC Australia: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (03) 5829 3600.