Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tells jobseekers to accept farm work or lose welfare Creative Commons

The Australian prime minister has been slammed for his “shallow approach” to tackling labour shortage. Scott Morrison said on Saturday that to people should accept farm work or lose their welfare.

As part of a new initiative by the Morrison government, farmers are called on to report their workforce to ensure those positions can be matched with eligible Australian jobseekers. The initiative aims to tackle farm labour shortage, and to do this, the administration would require matched individuals to take up farm work.

Farmers will have to report their employment needs to the National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS). They will then be asked about their workforce needs, including if they need short-term harvest work or where the location of the job is, the type of roles they needed filled, number of people, length of time and their payment. The NHLIS will match jobseekers with the job opportunities.

“Australian taxpayers expect genuine jobseekers to be looking for work. If a jobseeker turns down a suitable job offer without reasonable excuse, they will lose their taxpayer-funded income support payments for up to four weeks,” the government’s statement reads.

Morrison said, “While we’re tackling the labour shortage, this also ensures jobseekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities.”

The Morrison government’s solution got little support, however.

The National Farmers’ Federation thought it was a “shallow approach to a deep problem.” Its president, Fiona Simson, called it the government’s “carrot and stick” push and which wouldn’t be viable in the long run.

“Many agricultural tasks are short-term or seasonal,” Simson said. “Often these arrangements aren’t attractive to local workers, who have ongoing financial commitments and longer term career aspirations.”

She continued, “That’s why the Government’s announcement today is so disappointing. Their plan is to encourage workers onto farms using a carrot and stick approach might be well intentioned, but shows of a lack of understanding of the issue. We need a solution, and we need it yesterday.”

Simson said what they needed was a dedicated Agricultural Visa. They have been calling for it for more than a year now, talking to the government to address the problem. “Evidently, they have not been listening,” she said.

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) chief executive officer Cassandra Goldie told AAP that she strongly opposed any policy using “threats to cut off basic supports” and force people to move for temporary low paid work. The plan, she said, posed a “serious risk for those already in poverty.” It could mean people would have to give up affordable rental accommodation and loss of financial supports from family and friends.

Labor Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joel Fitzgibbon also slammed Morrison’s “latest stunt,” saying its aim was to distract from his broken visa promises by forcing the unemployed to work on farms. “The last thing growers need is people who don’t want to be there. This is from the bloke who introduced a backpacker tax,” he tweeted.