A cherry farmer near Chiltern has welcomed a new agricultural visa which could see more than 10,000 farm workers from Southeast Asia help out on Australian farms.
Bill Hotson of Hotson's Cherries said he hoped the visa would help fill picking positions on his farm, after he lost up to $20,000 last harvest because he couldn't find enough pickers.
"I think it's a great initiative," he said. "In terms of the numbers of backpackers that we'd had up until COVID-19, 10,000 is a mere drop in the bucket, but it's certainly something. So I think it would be great if we can make use of that."
Mr Hotson said the orchard usually employed about four international workers during harvest, but last year they had none.
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"Last year we didn't have those people so it made picking rather difficult," he said.
"We would have lost several tonne of cherries."
He said the loss was disappointing.
"To see beautiful cherries there and the demand was great, and we just couldn't get them off at various times," he said.
Mr Hotson said backpackers or international workers made a big difference during harvest.
"When we employ backpackers mostly they stay in accommodation on site, so they're usually available virtually every day of the week as you need them during the picking season," he said.
"Whereas the locals...they need weekends and more time off, so last year we found it very difficult to get a team on the paddock.
"It's not always the work a lot of Australians want to do."
The visa has been criticised by Australian Workers Union secretary Daniel Walton, who described it as an immoral way to exploit Southeast Asian workers on farms.
"If the government goes ahead with this abhorrent proposal, exploitation and abuse on Australian farms will explode," he said.
Mr Walton said Australians could be incentivised to do picking jobs with decent pay and conditions.
Mr Hotson, on the other hand, said all workers on his farm were paid the award rate.
"It's not about giving people low wages," he said.
"I'm not in favour of exploiting workers at all.
"We all recognise that we have piece rates for picking and that generally works very well in those situations that those people who pick lots earn really good money and they're pretty happy with it.
"People just starting are a bit slow to take off and a lot of them are OK to do that for a short time until they pick their game up."
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