The Australian Workers’ Union has welcomed Federal Labor’s new agriculture workforce policy, which will help secure the workforce Australian farms need without rolling out the welcome mat to more abuse and exploitation.
Labor says that if elected it will put an end to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s failed Ag Visa scheme by rolling it into the more successful and established PALM (Pacific Australia Labor Mobility) scheme.
The policy announcement vindicates the AWU’s long-running campaign on behalf of all farm workers, including grain, cane, fruit and vegetable workers.
“David Littleproud’s tenure as Agriculture Minister has been calamitous, unethical, and embarrassing,” AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton says.
“Thankfully the policy announced by Labor will help clean up the ungodly mess he’s made.
“Now, instead of begging the Foreign Minister to convince her Asian counterparts to accept a ‘trust us’, Frankenstein visa with no safeguards, Labor’s plan will build on the success of the established PALM scheme and strengthen existing ties with our Pacific neighbours.”
The AWU has led the charge against the Ag Visa, in the face of howls of outrage from Mr Littleproud and some vested industry interests, pointing out that 11 separate independent reports over the past decade have revealed endemic and widespread abuse of workers in the horticulture sector.
This year the union called out Mr Littleproud for attempting to funnel vulnerable migrant workers on to Australian farms under his Ag Visa, which contained fewer of the already meagre protections now available to migrant workers and no real guarantees on proper wages and conditions.
The AWU also recently upset the Morrison Government and a number of industry operators when it won the right for all fruit and vegetable pickers to be paid a guaranteed minimum $25.41* per hour, with the option to earn more under good piece rates, in its battle for fair wages and conditions for farm workers.
“Australia doesn’t need to run an agriculture sector that turns an intentional blind eye to worker exploitation and abuse,” Mr Walton says.
“We can uphold Australian working standards on farms while continuing to grow our industry. Labor has laid out a plan for how this can be achieved.
“Crucially, under Labor’s plan, ethical farmers who do the right thing will no longer be undercut by dodgy operators whose business models rely on exploitation.”
Labor says it will address Pacific economic challenges and ease Australia’s agricultural worker shortages by reforming and expanding the PALM scheme.
Workers on the scheme will be able to apply for more permanent migration, and the government will play a more active role in covering their travel costs to Australia.
The policy also includes higher standards on inductions and stricter rules around approved employers.
Vitally, employees will also have the right to change employers, so they will no longer be accused of “absconding”, and therefore putting their visas at risk, if they leave an exploitative employer.
“The election battle lines are now clear,” Mr Walton says.
“Labor now has a sensible plan to reward good farmers who do the right thing. Littleproud and the Nationals have a plan to reward unethical farmers who like to exploit foreign workers.”