New productivity figures on Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program

A new paper from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has some good news for employers using the Seasonal Work Program.

The authors, Robert Leith and Alistair Davidson, take a small sample of working holiday maker migrants and compare their earnings against a small sample of seasonal workers. The figures speak for themselves (Table 1):

WHMs Seasonal Workers
Total Total New Returning
Number of workers 34 30 7 22
Total weeks worked 76 80 18 59
Ave. weekly wage 427 887 776 942
Ave. hours worked per week 20.6 34.8 33.4 35.7
Ave. efficiency ($/hour) 20.2 24.7 22.8 25.6

The authors state: “Figure 1 shows considerable differences in the efficiency distributions of the two groups”. In the starkest terms possible, “the least efficient seasonal worker is only marginally less efficient (than a working holiday maker)”.

While this particular study is based on a (very) small sample and from one employer, it adds to what other recent research is showing. In New Zealand, Richard Bedford and Charlotte Bedford have undertaken similar studies with larger samples, showing very similar results (I believe a journal article is pending). The literature trend clearly shows benefits for employers.

These results show the benefits to employers in terms of the productivity of seasonal workers. They also demonstrate the massive income gains available to pacific migrants under the program, helping economic development in their home countries. Hopefully the Abbott government can continue to streamline this program, encouraging more employers to participate. While the immediate costs to engage with the program are higher than employing working holiday makers, the long-term benefits cannot be understated.

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