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Ag Visa: Culture of Exploitation

February 3, 2022

AWU promises Senate it will keep speaking out about ag visa dangers, culture of exploitation


Australian Workers’ Union National Secretary Daniel Walton has told a Senate committee his union will not bow to demands from the federal government to cease speaking to ambassadors and the community about the dangers of the new Agriculture Visa and the culture of exploitation that exists within the farming industry.

Mr Walton appeared alongside fruit picker and Chinese national Kate Hsu before the Senate Select Committee on Job Security this morning.

“Unfortunately, exploitation is now a core part of many farmers’ business model,” he told the committee.

“A huge number of temporary visa places have been provided over the years for backpackers and seasonal workers, with barely any rules and inadequate monitoring, compliance, and enforcement. Since 2016, 11 different pieces of research have investigated exploitation of horticulture workers… and they have all come back with the same findings: underpayment, mistreatment, shocking conditions and exploitation are systemic.

“This is not just a few bad eggs. The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated hundreds of employers over 5 years in its Harvest Trail inquiry; more than half of its investigations found a breach of workplace laws. Three-quarters of these breaches involved underpayment.

Poor pay and conditions have been justified on the basis of ‘labour shortages’ – that there are too few Australians willing to take up the work. But 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.”

Mr Walton told the senators the situation would only be exacerbated by the government’s proposed new Agricultural Visa. The AWU has being repeatedly attacked by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud for speaking about the dangers of the new visa with ambassadors to Australia, but Mr Walton vowed to continue speaking out frankly.

“So far, all of the potential agriculture visa partners have seen right through this. Legislation to establish the visa was passed in October, yet not one country has signed up to join the program,” Mr Walton noted.

“Only Indonesia has been willing to publicly express an interest in the program, yet after an expensive trip last week, Minister Littleproud came back with no deal on the ag visa. Why didn’t Indonesia sign up? Because they understand that worker exploitation is rife in Australia.

“[Mr Littleproud has] told every regional newspaper and radio station that will listen to him that the AWU hates Australia, hates farmers, that we’re disgraceful, that we’re getting in the way. Yet, since the visa announcement in June last year, we reached out several times to discuss how we can deal with labour concerns in the horticulture sector. He’s still yet to take a meeting with us.

“We are still opposed to the ag visa, because the government hasn’t done enough to protect the workers already here, whether they’ve come from the working holidaymaker program like Kate or they’re hear under the Pacific programs. Instead of threatening and intimidating workers and their representatives we should be encouraging workers who are getting shafted to speak out, reach out so that we can find you a better workplace.”

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