Australia’s migrant slave economy has been exposed again, with farmers labelling “outrageous” a Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruling that fruit pickers should be entitled to overtime if they work excessive hours. From The ABC:
One of Australia’s biggest fruit producers says a ruling this week by the Fair Work Commission is ‘a crazy decision’ that will send some farmers broke and force up the price of fruit and vegetables.
Starting on April 15, the Commission has ruled casuals on horticultural farms, who work more than 38 hours a week, will receive overtime, with penalties also paid for working more than 12 hours a day and night-shifts.
“We knew this was in the wind, but to now be implemented in two weeks’ time without a lot of clarity, it is going to be challenging at best,” said Gavin Scurr, the managing director of Piñata Farms…
“We will lose workers from this [ruling], as in people will stop coming to Australia because they can’t get enough work or are not allowed to work enough hours to get enough dollars under this ruling…
Vic Grozotis, an apple and avocado producer who runs a packing business at Manjimup in Western Australia, said the ongoing pressure on labour costs was forcing them to make decisions that “aren’t really in the best interest of the nation”…
To cut down his labour costs, Mr Grozotis said he was looking at robotic technology and even employing kids during the school holidays instead of adults…
Lloyd Pumpa from the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said he supported the decision and that some of the claims being made by the farmers were a bit much.
“An increase in wages will flow on through the economy, the backpackers will spend that money here,” he said.
“We might end up paying a little bit more for our fruit and vege, but really, we’re making sure that people have an adequate living wage when they do these sorts of jobs.
Late last year, a group of academics – Joanna Howe, Alex Reilly, Stephen Clibborn, Diane van den Broek & Chris F Wright – jointly penned an article in Fairfax claiming that the exploitation of temporary migrant horticultural workers is rampant:
Australia already has more backpackers, and relies more strongly on them for horticultural work, than any country…
Unlike agricultural visas in New Zealand, Canada and the United States, and unlike Australia’s own Pacific seasonal worker program, there is no pre-approval of employers. Nor is there systematic ongoing regulation to ensure compliance with workplace laws…
Several major studies have also found these workers are ripe for exploitation.
In 2016, the Fair Work Ombudsman undertook an inquiry into Australia’s backpacker visa scheme, which noted that “many backpackers are being subjected to underpayment or non-payment, unlawful deductions, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and other forms of exploitation”.
The Senate’s scathing report, entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, also documented the abuses of Australia’s Working Holiday Maker visas system, which was “consistently reported to suffer widespread exploitation in the Australian workforce”.
Meanwhile, the 2017 National Temporary Migrant Work Survey found that one in every seven temporary migrant fruit and vegetable pickers were paid $5 an hour or less, and a third earned $10 an hour or less.
At present, there is no labour marking testing before farmers can hire a backpacker. Current backpacker visa arrangements also require no preference whatsoever for local workers.
Improving fruit pickers’ wages and conditions makes a lot of sense. Not only would it reduce rampant exploitation, but it would encourage farms to invest in labour-saving technology, thus improving productivity.
Indeed, a key reason why developed economies are more efficient and have higher wages than their developing country counterparts is because they have invested heavily in labour-saving technologies and capital equipment.
For example, rather than having one hundred people with picks and shovels building a road, as occurs in developing countries (where labour is cheap), developed nations instead use a dozen people operating heavy machinery. The same applies to developed versus developing country agricultural production.
In short, by allowing fruit pickers’ wages to rise, by reducing rampant exploitation, farmers will be forced to invest in becoming more efficient. This is how an advanced economy is supposed to operate and is a desirable outcome.