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Rural deprivation and farm worker deprivation : who's at the 'sharp end' of rural inequalities in Australia?
chapterposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by James Mcallister
While it is acknowledged that there is devastating poverty within certain sectors of Australia's urban areas, low incomes are concentrated in rural areas, where rural sociology has been concerned mostly with (owner-operator) farmer lifestyles and livelihoods. It cannot be denied that commodity prices and seasonal conditions frequently create 'bad times' for farm owners or commodity 'growers'. Nevertheless, this chapter disaggregates the 'rural' epithet - used for all that goes on outside the cities - and separates farm workforces from other categories of rural and urban workers, bringing the farm wage and salary earner (employee) category to the fore. Overall, this chapter addresses two major aspects of agricultural labour: (i) how the employees' conditions differ from those of their farmer employers and of farm owner-operators who live and work in the same production environment but appear to employ only immediate family members; and (ii) the conditions of life and work of agricultural employees. Data of two types are presented, and the analysis is in three sections. Census data from 1996 (most recent) confirm farm workers as belonging to three class categories (employers, self-employed and employees). Farm workers in aggregate are first compared with other producers, then compared among classes of farm producers. This cross-sectional analysis is enhanced with data from a small national attitude survey, and then two case studies are used to elaborate the limited census information. Conditions of work and living are shown to be poorer for farm employees than for other farm work categories (owner-operator and employer farmers), and their appreciation of their opportunities for economic and social improvement reflects limited capacity for change within their work milieu. Particularly of concern here is farm, local community and legislative response to providing a labour force for harvesting sugarcane and mandarin oranges (tangerines).