As oranges rot in the orchard, Griffith NSW has become a symbol of the ECEC crisis
The Sector > COVID-19 > As oranges rot in the orchard, Griffith NSW has become a symbol of the ECEC crisis

As oranges rot in the orchard, Griffith NSW has become a symbol of the ECEC crisis

by Freya Lucas

October 18, 2022

The piece below has been developed from a story produced by the ABC via the Four Corners program. To access the original story please see here.


Peter Ceccato, General Manager of the Super Seasons orchard in the NSW Riverina describes his days as “heartbreaking”, walking the rows of his orchard which is carpeted with quality fruit rotting on the ground because he cannot find workers to pick the trees.


The award wage for fruit picking is $26.73 an hour, but Mr Ceccato pays his workers $29. Even when he offered $45 an hour, he could not find staff. 


Australia is in the grip of a chronic worker shortage, and it’s not just affecting the orchards where two years of COVID-19 restrictions have prevented overseas workers from coming to Australia. 


Some of the most affected sectors are those that are critical to the nation’s health and future like doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers and early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals. 


When fully qualified early childhood educators are paid less by the hour than casual fruit pickers, and fruit is rotting on the orchard floor, it sounds alarm bells. Currently, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, there are 470,900 unfilled jobs around the country, and without adequate ECEC provision, parents cannot fill them.


Job vacancies have jumped 40 per cent in 12 months. The number of occupations suffering shortages has almost doubled in 2022 alone.


News program Four Corners recently chose the NSW town of Griffith, in the NSW Riverina, to illustrate the impact of these figures on the ground. The city of around 27,000 people is a hub for agriculture, industry and services, with a major hospital and schools. Its difficulties illustrate how shortages in one sector flow across the community.


Using ECEC as an example, the program noted that at one local service, having a single extra staff member would open up an extra 85 licenced places across a week, freeing up parents to fill the enormous number of vacancies in the town. At the hospital alone there are 43 vacant positions. 


Work vehicles are off the road because of delays at a local mechanic. Crucial farming equipment isn’t getting built because of a shortage of welders. At the fire station, there is a small group of on-call firefighters, all of whom have other jobs. Four firefighters are required to respond to any incidents that are called through, which is proving challenging while so many businesses and services in the town are operating with limited resources.


Ultimately, the Four Corners report concludes, the cost of the worker shortage can be measured not only in missed deadlines and long delays, but in exhaustion and distress of those left holding the fort. 


At the Super Seasons orchard, the row after row of wasted food weighs heavily on Peter Ceccato.


“It’s just very difficult to get up in the mornings and see this happening again, knowing that it can be resolved,” he said. “We need a better system.”


To read the original coverage of this story, as produced by Four Corners, please see here

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