The Retail Supply Chain Alliance unions – the AWU, TWU and SDA – are demanding a Royal Commission into the exploitation, wage theft, and abuse that is rife across Australian farms in the wake of another explosive new report into the Australian horticulture sector.
The McKell Institute report, Blue Harvest, focused on blueberry pickers in the Coffs Harbour region, where thousands of backpackers flocked in search of farm work during coronavirus lockdowns in 2020.
An investigations team traversed the mid North Coast, gathering data and stories from blueberry workers employed during the 2020 picking season. Some were paid as little as $4 a bucket to pick low-quality fruit, while others earnt just $3 an hour – well below the award rate of $24 an hour. Others described common employment arrangements where accommodation, transport, food, and even vital equipment like gloves and berry containers had to be bought directly from farm-owners, reducing daily earnings.
The report also investigates how many workers are recruited by fly-by-night labour hire companies which use Facebook, WeChat and Gumtree to falsely promote fruit-picking as highly paid, fun work.
Retail Supply Chain Alliance spokesperson, Australian Workers’ Union National Secretary Daniel Walton, said that after years of hand wringing, inquiries and reports, it was time for action.
“This shocking new report can be added to the mountain of research indicating that Australian farms have become a hotbed of wage theft, exploitation, and worker abuse. It’s not just Coffs Harbour either – pick a spot on the map, and you will find outrageous exploitation. ” Mr Walton said.
“It’s about time David Littleproud woke up and took some responsibility for the sector he’s supposed to be in charge of. Under Mr Littleproud’s watch, Australian farms have developed an addiction to illegality and a domestic and international reputation as a place where you are likely to be ripped off or worse. The Minister needs to stand up and announce his support for a Royal Commission urgently.
“This idea that exploitation is limited to a few bad apples needs to be done away with. This is a sector defined by and built on illegality. By turning a blind eye, the government has created a system of rules and structures that rewards labour abusers and punishes those operators doing the right thing. We’d like to see good farmers