Foreign workers turn to farm jobs

Foreign workers turn to farm jobs in south-west Victoria as hospitality and tourism industries close

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CHANGE OF JOB: French chef Fabien Duboeuf is working as a farm hand in Koroit. The Melbourne-based restaurant he worked at closed due to the coronavirus fallout.

CHANGE OF JOB: French chef Fabien Duboeuf is working as a farm hand in Koroit. The Melbourne-based restaurant he worked at closed due to the coronavirus fallout.

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It comes as hospitality and tourism industries shut.

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South-west Victorian farms are being inundated with requests for jobs from backpacker workers, in a change of fortune after longstanding labour shortages.

Dairy farmers are fielding calls from backpackers who have stayed in Australia but lost their employment as industries such as hospitality and tourism shut due to coronavirus.

Koroit, Vic, dairy farmer Oonagh Kilpatrick said she employed French chef Fabien Duboeuf after backpackers had approached her "like mad".

Mr Duboeuf was head chef at Melbourne's French Brasserie in Flinders Lane and is now seeing a different side of the food industry as he helps to milk cows at Ms Kilpatrick's dairy.

"These guys have no work ... they have come in under working holiday visas and now find themselves stuck because they have no restaurant jobs," Ms Kilpatrick said.

"The backpackers had been really proactive looking for work. I would have thought we'd have Australian workers."

She said Mr Duboeuf was isolated on the farm and mowed lawns for some days before joining the other workers.

"They know they are not going to get any handouts ... and they can't get home because the flights are at extortionist cost," Ms Kilpatrick said.

"He will see the dairy products he works with. To me it's an education. He certainly might not like how he smells at the end of the day.

"It is good provided they accept that it is going to be tough."

WestVic Dairy executive officer Lindsay Ferguson said some expected backpackers hadn't arrived in Australia due to travel bans, but others were out of work and able to "balance out" labour shortages.

"At the minute I believe we are better off than we have been for a long time. But it is only a temporary situation," Mr Ferguson said.

"If backpackers are adaptable to do the farm work, that's the question."

Food Industry People Group's Darren Basford said the labour hire company was aware of up to 30 jobs available in the south-west mostly in the meat processing and dairy industries.

Mr Basford said the company was inundated with job seekers, but the job keeper scheme had since caused a decrease in those numbers.

"It's not quite business as usual, it is up," he said.

"We have more inquiry now than we had this time last year."

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