Many Canberrans are fond of a stopover in Jugiong, the little community that’s turned itself into a chic foodie destination (admittedly somewhat to the surprise of these of us who live within coo-ee).
After the Hume Highway diversion went through, the picturesque village became a pleasant lunch destination for an upmarket pub meal at the Sir George, a riverside picnic on the Murrumbidgee or a foodie forage at the Long Track Pantry.
So perhaps many will have been scratching their heads over the weekend’s uproar on Twitter where allegations of forced child labour over the jam pots emerged.
It all began with a cheery story from the ABC discussing the lack of staff in the bush. The solution for the Long Track Pantry’s owners, a family who have lived in the area for generations, was to offer local kids a job at award rates and conditions.
This is within the law in NSW, where children aged 12 and under can get a tax file number if a parent or guardian signs on their behalf. At the Long Track, the kids are onboarded with training programs, work with strict safety requirements and under supervision devised by staff members, some of whom have teaching backgrounds.
Cue hysteria on Twitter, allegations of exploitation and huffing and puffing along the lines of “I will never buy their delicious raspberry and white peach jam again for $12.50 a jar now that I know how they make it”.
The ultimate nonsensical weapon – one-star Google reviews – was then deployed.
If ever there was a demonstration of the proposition that Twitter can be full of idiots, this would be it.
Will these tweeters rigorously abstain from reading any newspaper hurled onto their lawns by a ten year old on a bike? Will they refuse to pay kids serving in their parents’ corner shop on the weekends? How about children helping their dads cut firewood for sale, or running lemonade stalls, or delivering for their local chemist?
How do they think kids save up for new bikes – or whatever they want – and work to get them?
Child labour laws are in place for good reason. No child should be exploited through long hours that interfere with their educational opportunities or put them in danger.
But that really does not seem to be happening in the Jugiong jam factory. Instead, many local farm and village children who are already well used to collecting the eggs, turning the pump on, mustering sheep and feeding the working dogs are getting paid a fair wage ($20 per hour plus super, according to one mum) for well-supervised, straightforward and useful tasks.
In doing so, they’re also helping build their local community, a role that’s little understood by urban social media warriors. Creating work keeps families in place. Employment opportunities mean schools continue to operate, shops stay open and communities flourish.
Anyone from the bush knows how much it hurts when the petrol station disappears, the pub is in peril and your kids are on an hour-and-a-half school bus ride to town instead of a 10-minute drive down the road. Jugiong has built a thriving local economy on the back of clever, resourceful local businesses like the Long Track Pantry. The community deserves congratulations for reversing those threats.
Work is not just an opportunity. It confers dignity and responsibility on people. It builds self-esteem and motivates people (kids included) to build a productive society.
Many of us had part-time jobs as children, and many of us believe that working – and experiencing the rewards – is an important part of growing responsible, contributing adults.
So perhaps the Twitter warriors should just stay away – that way, there’d be more (utterly delicious) jam and relish for the rest of us.