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Workers Shortages and Other Troubles Haunt Eden-Monaro

Workers Shortages and Other Troubles Haunt Eden-Monaro


Workers Shortages and Other Troubles Haunt Eden-Monaro

Article by: Hari Yellina

Eden-Monaro was considered a bellwether district until Labor’s Mike Kelly won it in 2016. It had been won by the party that established government at every federal election since 1972. Mr Kelly retired in 2020 owing to ill health, and Labor won the by-election, with Kristy McBain winning by a razor-thin margin of 0.9 percent. Since then, the region, like the rest of Australia, has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the region’s economic and social problems have been exacerbated by periods of drought and the Black Summer bushfires. Many individuals in the area are feeling the pinch of rising living costs, with housing both scarce and expensive.

Ian Chu, an electronic engineer, and his wife Helen left their jobs in Sydney in 2006 to start a mushroom farm near Murrumbateman, just north of Canberra. “But it’s also an intriguing product with a bright future, mostly because mushrooms are grown vertically, requiring less area and being less dependent on the weather.” The business is mostly immune to the ravages of drought and bushfires that have devastated the region in recent years, thanks to rows upon rows of shelves inside climate-controlled containers at its warehouse. During numerous COVID lockdowns, demand for their products grew, but finding personnel to hand-pick the delicate mushrooms became increasingly difficult.

Mrs Chu, a former schoolteacher, has taken on the responsibility of training new employees, a process she estimates will take weeks. “It’s not just what you pick and put in the box; it’s also what you place on the bed,” she explained, “because if you don’t do it right, you’ll wind up with a whole lot of damaged mushrooms the next day.” “It takes approximately a month to finally understand the size, quality, and then speed up.” “However, once they have that, they can be called ‘proficient pickers.’ Mr. and Mrs. Chu acknowledge that the position is not suitable for everyone.

They added that while they sought to pay a competitive wage based on their small profit margin, the high cost of living in and around Murrumbateman and Canberra, where many workers resided, made it difficult to keep people. “We’d love to pay our people a fortune, but it’s simply not viable,” Mr Chu explained. “We value employee retention and believe we’re paying the correct amount – and they’re well compensated.” Mr Chu believes that workforce shortages will be on many people’s minds in the Eden-Monaro agricultural industry when they vote this month. “And, of course, tax – any tax hike will add to the bottom-line that we’re so concerned about.”