The Australian Workers’ Union has welcomed Federal Labor’s new farm labor policy, which will help secure the labor needed on Australian farms without rolling out the welcome mat to further abuse and operating.
Labor says if elected they will end Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s failed agricultural visa scheme by integrating it into the more efficient and established PALM (Pacific Australia Labor Mobility) scheme.
The political announcement vindicates the AWU’s longstanding campaign on behalf of all agricultural workers, including grain, sugarcane, fruit and vegetable workers.
“David Littleproud’s tenure as Minister of Agriculture has been calamitous, unethical and embarrassing,” said AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton.
“Fortunately, the policy announced by Labor will help clean up the ungodly mess he has created.
“Now, instead of begging the Foreign Secretary to convince his Asian counterparts to accept a ‘trust us’ Frankenstein visa without any guarantees, the Labor Party’s plan will build on the success of the established PALM program and will strengthen existing ties with our Pacific neighbours.”
The AWU led the charge against Ag Visa, in the face of howls of outrage from Mr Littleproud and some industry interests, pointing out that 11 separate independent reports over the past decade have exposed rampant abuse and generalization of workers in the horticultural sector. .
This year the union called out Mr Littleproud for trying to funnel vulnerable migrant workers to Australian farms under his Ag visa, which contained fewer of the already meager protections now available to migrant workers and no real guarantees on appropriate wages and conditions.
The AWU also recently upset the Morrison government and a number of industry operators when it secured the right for all fruit and vegetable pickers to be paid a guaranteed minimum of $25.41* per hour, with the opportunity to earn more with good piece rates, in its battle for fair wages and conditions for agricultural workers.
“Australia does not need to run an agricultural sector that intentionally turns a blind eye to worker exploitation and abuse,” Mr Walton said.
“We can meet Australian labor standards on farms while continuing to grow our industry. The Labor Party has drawn up a plan on how to achieve this.
“Essentially, under the Labor plan, ethical farmers who do the right thing will no longer be undermined by dodgy operators whose business models are based on exploitation.”
Labor says it will tackle economic challenges in the Pacific and ease agricultural worker shortages in Australia by reforming and expanding the PALM scheme.
Workers benefiting from the scheme will be able to apply for more permanent migration and the government will take a more active role in covering their travel costs to Australia.
The policy also includes higher standards on inductions and stricter rules regarding approved employers.
Vitally, employees will also have the right to change employers, so they will no longer be accused of ‘absconding’, and therefore jeopardizing their visas, if they leave an exploitative employer.
“The electoral battle lines are now clear,” Mr Walton said.
“Labour now has a sensible plan to reward good farmers who do the right thing. Littleproud and the Nationals have a plan to reward unethical farmers who enjoy exploiting foreign workers.
*$25.41 is the occasional guaranteed hourly rate.