The Retail Supply Chain Alliance and Woolworths continue to make a huge impact on horticultural industry pay and conditions with fruit and vegetable pickers, farmers, suppliers and retailers attending a packed meeting in Swan Hill this month.
The RSCA is a partnership between Australian Workers’ Union, the Transport Workers’ Union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Union.
It came together in response to widespread exploitation of vulnerable horticulture workers after decades of underpayment and worker abuse.
The Alliance has gone on to enlist the major supermarket chains, shoppers and good farmers to raise overall standards across regional Australia.
AWU Acting Assistant National Secretary Stephen Crawford, who took part in the Swan Hill meeting, said cracking down on third-party labour-hire companies’ shoddy practices, and increased industry transparency, were core elements of the RSCA’s objectives.
And he said the Swan Hill meeting was another vital chance for workers and members of the community to discuss the poor pay and conditions for migrant workers in the region.
Migrant workers attend the Swan Hill forum
“The RSCA’s campaign with the major retailers is putting real pressure on dodgy operators, together we have achieved tremendous results for vulnerable horticultural workers,” Mr Crawford said.
“So far we have seen the abolition of the exploitative piece-rate system, helped stop the Morrison Government’s dangerous Ag Visa from being introduced across the Asia-Pacific, and successfully argued for fairer wages and deductions.
“And this year the AWU won milestone changes to the Horticulture Award which saw the Fair Work Commission set a guaranteed minimum rate of pay – $25.41 per hour – for industry workers.”
The Swan Hill event was significant as it was the first to be hosted by Woolworths, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Alliance in May.
The MoU calls on its partners to work to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of decent work and gender equality across the industry, in the support of not only fair, but also rewarding work for Australia’s essential horticulture workers.
Mr Crawford said there was still work to be done, with the AWU looking forward to working with its RSCA partners to ensure all farm workers were paid and treated fairly.
“Alliance members understand how hard it is for people in low paying jobs to speak up against their employers,” he said.
“But without them coming forward unethical employers will continue to get away with criminal exploitation.
“RSCA unions are here to help, to come in and investigate, to prosecute these employers on workers’ behalf and improve pay and conditions.
“And we are urging and all parts of the industry to join us, to give us more power to police this rogue industry and ensure that all farmers treat their workers fairly.
“If we do that, we will not only help backpackers and seasonal workers, we will also provide far more job opportunities for Australians who right now are avoiding this industry because of its reputation for abuse and underpayment.”