Fruit picking plan to lower debt proves a divisive issue
A RECOMMENDATION for university students to spend a gap year picking fruit to pay down study debts has divided opinions across the region.
Bowen mango farmer Ben Martin, from Marto's Mangoes, this week came out in support of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration's suggestion for recent graduates to get a HECS debt discount if they picked crops in regional Australia.
The scheme aims to help bolster industry shortages after it was revealed the number of available overseas workers had plunged from 140,000 to 70,000 because of COVID-19.
Industry body National Farmers Federation backed the proposal, saying incentivising picking programs would help farmers in desperate need.
The HECS reduction is one of a several ideas industry groups are discussing, with suggestions also including employing troubled youth and extending visas for backpackers.
But the idea of university students and graduates picking fruit in return for a lower study loan debt has divided readers.
While the majority of more than 200 comments on the Mercury's Facebook were in support of the plan, others were critical of the idea.
Among the critics was Shellee Robbertson who asked the fairness of the plan for those already with jobs.
"So some jobs reduce your HECs debt and others don't?" she commented.
"Completely unfair and discriminatory."
Anne-Maree Hardes wrote: "So people who are out of work are forced into further hardship on low wages, no permanent home or having to maintain two homes because the employment is only seasonal, then be expected to pay off their HECs debt all at the same time?
"Gee how much does a fruit picker earns, do you think?"
Kristen Ollson, in reply, said pickers in her employ earned between $35 and $50 an hour.
"We go year-round, I can't even get Australian applicants to apply for a full time year-round job that does not require any qualifications and it's paid on wages," she said.
Read the full comments and opinions at the Daily Mercury's Facebook page.