The burgeoning southern cotton industry is not only helping the Murrumbidgee Valley’s economy but providing job hopes to the young, and even the restless types.
The backbone of the southern cotton industry has been the pool of casuals and skilled workers they can rely on.
The cycle of grain, grapes and cotton harvesting and a multitude of valley industries has given workers a jobs “playing field” where they can make consistent wages as they move from industry to industry. It’s also keeping them in the fold of the Murrumbidgee. Young workers can earn up to $1200 a week – but the proviso is that it’s often a six-day week with long hours to get there.
Backpackers are an important part of the mix. At Southern Cotton, backpackers make up a third of the workforce at ginning time. The recent controversy over the backpacker tax has not cut the labour supply.
Cotton has also provided work to locals joining the workforce, including Monique Alcock, of Leeton (pictured), whose mother Michelle also works at Southern Cotton.
The 17-year-old was glad to get a chance in the industry despite the long hours and sometimes bruising work. The only issue was that she was too good – finishing her expected three-week task padding down cotton rollers in just a week-and-a-half.
“When it is cotton picking season there is more work around,” she says. “If you know people and have a few contacts it is easier. I enjoyed the experience.”
She will return to the gin in April for a five-month stint. In the meantime she’s jumped into the walnut industry as an interim job.
Meanwhile, for a restless type, a backpacker from The Netherlands, a casual job at Southern Cotton turned into a full-time opportunity. Melvyn Kaufmann, an experienced lab technician and mechanic, worked for two seasons as a casual. The owners liked his work ethic and offered him a full-time job as a maintenance worker on a 457 visa. He’s been working there now for two years and enjoying life on the hot Australian plains. “I like it here, I like the people and I thought ‘why not give it a try’.”
Southern Cotton’s general manager Kate O’Callaghan says the pool of workers adds confidence to the business.