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South East Asian Visa – Reduces Wages – Disgrace

June 19, 2021

Planned reforms to Australia’s agriculture temporary visa program will all but guarantee continued widespread exploitation throughout the industry, with non-English-speaking workers left vulnerable to wage theft and racism.


The scheme, hastily announced in the wake of the new Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement signed at the G7, will target vulnerable workers from 10 South East Asian nations.

It is designed to replace the flow of easily exploited British workers lost the system after changes to the Working Holiday Maker program, specifically the removal of the requirement for WHM visa recipients to undertake 88 days of regional work.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said the Morrison Government’s proposal was a disgrace.

“Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have decided it’s wrong for Brits to be exposed to exploitation and abuse on farms, but apparently it’s okay for South East Asians,” Mr Walton said.


“Britain rightly wanted to scrap the 88-day requirement to work on Australian farms, because they recognised their citizens were being exploited and abused.

“They’re not alone — citizens from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and many others have raised similar concerns.

“South East Asian workers lured into the country under the new arrangement will be even more vulnerable than the British backpackers they replace, given the additional challenges most are likely to face in terms of language and economic desperation.”

Mr Walton said Agriculture Minister David Littleproud had already acknowledged the new visa was designed to enable exploitation, by removing meagre protections in the existing Pacific Labour Scheme.



And he condemned Mr Littleproud’s claim that the changes were necessary because Australians “can’t be incentivised to have a crack at these jobs”.

“That’s absolute garbage,” he said. “Every day, Australians, including thousands of AWU members, get up to work in jobs that are just as tough and arduous as fruit picking.


“The difference is they have access to Australian standards of pay and Australian working rights.”

The battle against exploitation and wage theft is at the heart of the AWU’s application with the Fair Work Commission to vary the Horticulture Award 2020.

The AWU wants a minimum hourly rate in the award, and an end to the piece-rates system that has seen some workers paid less than $3 an hour, often while working in appalling conditions.

Its submission includes evidence of widespread wage theft, exacerbated by piece-rates and the compulsion for vulnerable foreign workers to do 88-days’ work in regional areas, just to keep their visas.

The Commission will hear the AWU’s application next month.

Meantime Mr Walton has sought urgent meetings with Mr Littleproud next week.

“If the Government goes ahead with this abhorrent proposal exploitation and abuse on Australian farms will explode,” he said.

“Aside from the humanity, this is also economically boneheaded.

“At a time when we desperately need to be putting upward pressure on Australian wages, the Government decides to introduce a scheme that allows one sector to aggressively drive down the pay that should be circulating in regional economies.”

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