Jobs go begging across regional Queensland amid pandemic downturn – ABC News - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Jobs go begging across regional Queensland amid pandemic downturn – ABC News

Employers across regional Queensland are struggling to fill vacant jobs, despite unemployment rising during the coronavirus pandemic.

In June, Queensland’s unemployment rate hit 7.7 per cent. The national unemployment rate is 7.1 per cent.

But across industries such as hospitality, agriculture and construction, regional employers are seeking workers, with not enough to be found.

The last time the Waltzing Matilda Motor Inn in Charleville, in central-west Queensland, had enough cleaners was in March — before coronavirus restrictions.

The motel’s general manager Martin Reinhard said they had never had any issues in finding staff before.

“Usually we have a good response. In the past, we’ve filled positions within the day,” he said.

Mr Reinhard said the struggle to hire staff had taken a toll on him and his wife.

“We’re cleaning rooms in the morning and early afternoon, and then getting the kitchen ready for the next run on the restaurant,” he said.

“It has been getting up at 4:30 in the morning and working until 10 o’clock at night for the past three months.”

Jobs ripe for the picking

It has been the hardest year in memory to find workers for one kiwi fruit farm in Killarney, southern Queensland.

Without workers, farmer David Weier said he has had to prune his trees in the early hours and late at night, around his day job as an electrician.

“Usually I would have four or five workers here at the farm doing the pruning,” he said.

“We advertised for workers about three weeks ago but we haven’t had too many replies.”

Kiwi fruit vines after being pruned on a farm near Killarney in southern Queensland, July 2020.

Kiwi fruit vines after being pruned on a farm near Killarney in southern Queensland, July 2020.

David Weier is currently pruning his kiwi fruit vines in preparation for the next season.(Supplied: David Weier)

After two failed seasons due to hail and a lack of pickers, Mr Weier said he was desperate.

“The vines have to be pruned within the next fortnight or I may as well kiss this season goodbye as well,” he said.

Even the Gold Coast’s booming construction industry is still struggling to find workers.

Recruitment agency director Fiona Watson said large companies were surprised.

“We have got roles that we are advertising and recruiting for where we just aren’t getting applicants,” she said.

“Particularly in construction, marketing and accounting, we are really struggling to fill roles.”

two surfers, skyline in background

two surfers, skyline in background

The busy Gold Coast construction industry is surprised it can’t fill job vacancies.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale, file photo)

‘Happy to sit there’

Many employers feel the Federal Government’s increased JobSeeker payments were acting as a major disincentive to work.

“They are happy to sit there on their $1,500 a fortnight,” Ms Watson said.

In Cairns, the tourism and hospitality industry was struggling, especially smaller businesses.

Hayes Recruiting Cairns business director Tracie Picton said employers were concerned that people wanted to stay on JobSeeker.

“I’ve had examples where organisations haven’t been able to reopen because they can’t get the staff.”

The door of the Waltzing Matilda Motor Inn in Charleville reflects an empty sitting area

The door of the Waltzing Matilda Motor Inn in Charleville reflects an empty sitting area

Owners of the Waltzing Matilda Motor Inn in Charleville say a lack of cleaners means they cannot rent out some rooms.(Supplied: Waltzing Matilda Motor Inn)

Mr Reinhard said, anecdotally, that seemed to be the case.

“Typically, as a cleaner, if you get 15 hours of work you’d make maybe $400 to $450 a week,” he said.

“That’s less than what you get on JobSeeker, so it would make more sense to be on JobSeeker.”

But economists say the reasons are much more complicated.

‘Handful of cases’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the payments could amount to a disincentive to work, but recent changes were aimed at tightening the rules.

An Australian Government National Skills Commission survey found that, for the month until July 3, a lack of applicants was the biggest barrier to recruitment.

The data also showed that location was a larger factor in the regions than capital cities.

Australian Government National Skills Commission Jobs in Demand Employer Survey, 8 June to 3 July 2020

Australian Government National Skills Commission Jobs in Demand Employer Survey, 8 June to 3 July 2020

National Skills Commission data shows lack of applicants as the major recruitment difficulty.(Supplied: Australian Government National Skills Commission)

In an address to the Anika Foundation on July 21, Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe said JobSeeker was not a major factor in lack of employment.

“There are no doubt some cases where people are getting JobSeeker and that reduces their incentive to seek out a job,” he said.

“The vast bulk of people who are on JobSeeker could not find a job because there were no jobs because the country was shutting down.”

‘A lot of contributing reasons’

Economist Pete Faulkner from the Queensland-based Conus Consultancy said it was not likely an army of potential workers were sitting around rejecting job offers.

“I wouldn’t suggest there are no circumstances where that is true,” he said.

“But there are probably a lot of contributing reasons.”

Those reasons included workers being unable to relocate — especially interstate or to remote locations — a lack of appropriately skilled workers, and in the case of fruit picking no international workers or backpackers.

Large numbers of Australians now need help from Centrelink.

Large numbers of Australians now need help from Centrelink.

Economists say it’s unlikely there’s a huge number of people rejecting jobs to stay on JobSeeker payments.(AAP: James Gourley)

Mr Faulkner also said the JobKeeper subsidy could see people stay in roles they might otherwise have left.

“There’s a whole variety of reasons why we could be seeing some employers struggling to find people to take on work,” he said.

He said it was uncertain when the regional Queensland job market might return to normal given the wider ongoing economic situation.

“But I think anybody suggesting that it’s going to be back to normal any time soon is probably kidding themselves,” Mr Faulkner said.



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