The National Farmers’ Federation has acknowledged the findings of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce Report led by Dr Allan Fels AO and cited an agriculture-specific visa as a means to help prevent exploitation and ease the sector’s labour crisis.
In the report released today, Dr Fels has made 22 recommendations to protect vulnerable workers including criminal sanctions for ‘serious and egregious’ deliberate exploitation, a bolstering of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s capacity, and the development of a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme.
Federal Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer has given ‘in principle’ support to all 22 recommendations.
NFF Chief Executive Officer Tony Mahar said farmers relied on a migrant workforce and the sector had zero tolerance for the exploitation of workers.
“The NFF welcomes sensible measures to protect the wellbeing of migrant workers and to ensure farmers maintain access to an international workforce.
“Indeed, the NFF is already hard at work promoting the integrity and the wellbeing of the farm workers, supporting projects such as Fair Farms and Staff Sure, and engaging with government and regulators to bolster awareness and compliance. Nevertheless, we accept that more can be done.
“Criminal sanctions are absolutely appropriate where it is proved that an employer has deliberately and repeatedly underpaid workers and/or refused to pay superannuation.
“Of course we also welcome the Minister’s commitment that employers who accidentally or inadvertently do the wrong thing would not be at the mercy of criminal recourse.”
Agriculture is in the midst of workforce crisis with farmers routinely forced to leave produce on the vine to rot because they cannot find the people power they need to get the job done.
“The Australian farm workforce is a combination of local and international workers – working pursuant to seasonal worker program and working holiday maker visas. However, alone these programs do not meet the sector’s labour needs,” Mr Mahar said.
The NFF is calling on the Government to develop an Agricultural Visa to match international workers with the jobs farmers need filled.
“The first step in protecting overseas workers is ensuring that they have entered Australia via legal and legitimate means; are working in accordance with visa conditions, and that their presence in the Australian workforce is transparent, all of which an Ag Visa would help facilitate.”
An important feature of an Ag Visa would be that only growers who could demonstrate their compliance with the law would be able to access the program. It would also have safeguard to ensure workers know their rights, know who to turn to, and are not bullied into thinking that they have to put up with mistreatment.
Mr Mahar said for some time the NFF had been asking for a national response to problems associated with illegitimate labour hire operators and welcomed the commitment to the development of a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme.
“Properly implemented such a scheme, like that proposed by Dr Fells, would provide workers and farmers the confidence they need in the hiring process and beyond. We look forward to the Scheme being finalised.”
“The NFF will continue to work with government to assist with the appropriate implementation of the recommendations’ from the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce Report and importantly, on progressing an Agricultural Visa,” Mr Mahar said.
“Solving agriculture’s worker deficit is paramount to agriculture achieving a farm gate output value of $100 billion by 2030 and a key component of NFF’s 2030 Roadmap.”