Your ABC endorses foreign slaves, low wages

The ABC has run another article warning of dire farm labour shortages due to the collapse of migrant workers:

Australians are being warned they could be paying a lot more at the checkout for their fruit and vegetables this summer, and possibly taking home a lower-quality product…

Fruitico has partner producers in other states — including Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania — and Mr Fahl said farms operating in other states were facing the same labour shortage…

There are now fears the labour shortages could have lasting ramifications for the industry, far beyond the busy looming summer harvest period.

“It [a longer term worker shortage] plays on our mind a lot, it keeps us up at night,” Mr Fahl said…

The State Government this week confirmed an additional 120 Ni-Vanuatu would arrive from the Northern Territory to help address the shortage.

The workers have already quarantined and will be sent to farms in the South West and Great Southern.

Plans for an additional 160 Ni-Vanuatu workers have been delayed due to a locally recorded COVID-19 case.

While the horticulture sector still requires thousands of workers, Ms MacTiernan said the measure would deliver a ‘boost’ for industry.

“There is no miracle cure here, there is overwhelming fact that we have relied very heavily on overseas labour and obviously during a pandemic that is going to be a challenge,” she said.

As usual, there is zero mention of the fact that abundant evidence of temporary migrants being ruthlessly exploited on Australia’s farms. Nor that Australian farms have flat out refused to employ local workers because they have to be paid a legal wage and are far less easy to exploit.

Interestingly, a reader living in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley sent me the following message over the weekend, which highlights the chicanery:

I live in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria which is a large agricultural production area.

I service orchards across the area in my line of work and I would like to tell you that without exception they are all manned by foreign labour.

Every packing shed I go into is full of Asian and Indian workers.

The orchards have all Asian pickers.

They wont employ locals as they would have to pay them the correct rate and a lot of these companies have their own worker accommodation which they collect rent from the very same workers that they underpay.

As they cant collect rent from locals they have no chance of getting a job.

I even overheard an office worker telling a local that they had no positions but the following week when I was out there they were showing two new Indian arrivals around.

Its disgusting.

I see the agents for these workers getting around in their flash cars while at the same time they are exploiting their own countrymen.

The government created this mess with their free trade deals and the free movement of foreign labour which is a part of these deals.

Sadly nothing will be done about it and Australians will be denied jobs in their own country while it is flooded with cheap foreign labour.

I have been hearing the lies about not being able to get pickers since I was a kid picking fruit with my father during school holidays.

As we keep saying, allowing Australia’s farmers to pluck cheap foreign workers en masse is bad for both wages and long-run productivity.

Australia’s mining industry is world-class and attracts workers to far out places by paying excellent wages.

Cut off the migrant slave labour pipeline and Australian farms will be forced to raise wages. In turn, this will drive farms to automate and lift productivity, boosting both profits and wages.

However, if the government allows farms to continue relying heavily on cheap foreign labour, then capital will shallow, productivity will stagnate, and both wages and profits will decline.

There’s a reason why farms in advanced nations are more likely to involve a handful of workers operating heavy machinery, whereas in low-wage developing countries farms are manned by many workers doing manual labour.

The higher cost of labour in advanced countries forces farms to invest in labour saving machinery, which lifts productivity.

If farm margins are so weak then they should be forced to consolidate, driving economies of scale, improved productivity, and higher profit margins.

The key ingredient for Australian agriculture to flourish is productivity-enhancing automation, not migrant slave labour.

Australians are not inherently lazy. But they do know when they are being exploited and paid slave wages.

The whole industry needs a clean-out.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. ABC didn’t talk to the workers before publishing the claims of worker shortage : they might as well publish press releases from the immigration agents as news.

    • What’s a good hit piece without a really good piece of propaganda:
      “Canadian national Annie Stephenson arrived in WA in March as the pandemic started to ramp up. She has plans to leave for Sydney and Melbourne as soon as she is able.

      “It depends on what the regulations are, everything is so unpredictable and changing week to week,” she said.

      Canadian backpacker Annie Stephenson standing in a vineyard.
      Annie Stephenson has not had the chance to explore Australia’s east coast due to the coronavirus pandemic.(ABC News: Jessica Hayes)”

      With photo of bright eyed Canadian amid fruit trees- ROFL!

      The ABC is so full of it.

      • Yes the abc is full of it They cancelled Kevin Long of The Long View from abc radio giving weather forecasts and long term forecasts to farmers. Really important to farmers. Reason? Proper science fact based forecasts that worked, using sea temperature, ocean currents, Chinese pollution cloud, planetary effects and the solar cycles and more. Engineer and farmer. Cant have any of that, it’s only the ClimateChangeTradeMark aka global warming so booted. He has a website. The USA has stopped providing sea temperatures in the Pacific which are key to our east coast weather. When I was on my farm the local farmers knew the bureau of metrology changed temperatures as rural diarise weather daily and their own rainfall gauges, max and minimum thermometers.

  2. What you have said is eminently sensible but the ABC article just left out the word CHEAP that should have been inserted in front of the word labour. I will insert it for them:

    “Managing director Roger Fahl said unless the CHEAP labour shortage was addressed, West Australians could expect to pay a lot more at the checkout this summer.”

    There is really little difference whether the the cheap labour is located onshore or offshore it has had the same effect, our industries have been decimated from textiles to steel making and manufacturing. For some reason it is OK for labour to be exploited (safety, slavery, payment, etc.) if it is done offshore but not onshore.

    Many of our imports are cheap because cheap labour is utilised.

    • Jumping jack flash


      You can’t obtain the debt you need on a fruit and vegetable picker wage.
      Most Australian workers aspire to obtaining the debt they need.
      They need a minimum amount of wage to be able to do that.

      This is more than the farmers care to pay. However, people from 3rd world countries who are just happy to be here haven’t considered the debt that is essential to succeed in the New Economy yet. They’re happy to work for the amount of wages that farmers are prepared to offer, which is probably enough to experience a reasonable snapshot of the Australian way of life, but is nowhere near the amount that is required to obtain the debt to get to the next step of home ownership.

  3. Fruit growers in other nations are investing in robotics. The industry will automate like many others. Meanwhile in the dumb country we have and foster slave labour conditions

    • I notice that Hillary Clinton was pictured next to a union official in that story. Clinton is just a weather-vane. Her primary motive is power and influence peddling.

  4. The90kwbeastMEMBER

    Leith, isn’t there a sort of hypocrisy in the recommendation here?

    “The higher cost of labour in advanced countries forces farms to invest in labour saving machinery, which lifts productivity”

    So you’re advocating to cut off foreign labour, replace them with expensive locals in the short to mid term, who will in turn be replaced by automated machines long term because they are too expensive?

    How is that actually a win for local workers other than in the short to maybe mid term? Wouldn’t it be easier to just re-train people right now who can’t get work to a career where a robot won’t take your job in 10 years time?

    • You seem to be missing the point. The higher wage work is to maintain and run the machinery. This work won’t go away.
      Edit: Also it supports the industry to design and construct the machinery.

        • The90kwbeastMEMBER

          I agree with you in part but consider the below:

          1) Doesn’t have to be *all* farm workers, just many farm workers and the end result is the same
          2) Replacing workers to generate cost savings for business is literally what Leith is advocating for “invest in labour saving machinery.”

          You either accept that you have many jobs that don’t pay much because they are lower skilled, or have fewer jobs that do pay well but are higher skilled. He’s suggesting the latter option – but either way, currently low skilled Aussies looking for farm work lose under both scenarios because under the first, they are being pushed out by underpaid migrants. Under the second, they need to re-train to do the jobs you are describing, which have nothing to do with the farm work entailed in the article.

          I get the article was written from a macro/what’s good for business perspective (which is rare on this blog), but I’m also pointing out that low skilled Aussies are thrown under the bus in both scenarios. What about them?

          • Well they won’t all be replaced by automation, so it’s not the zero sum game you make out. Also having jobs in the meantime is still something and not being ‘thrown under the bus’. And in the end high productivity is a good thing.

          • The90kwbeastMEMBER


            Well that is what Leith thinks will happen, and not only that but he’s advocating for it.

            My argument is just re-train people in the first place to do other and better jobs if the existing ones will be automated away in part at minimum in the future anyway. Also yes, clean up the industry and the dodgy visas, but retrain simultaneously.

            It’s like saying we should be raising the wages of train drivers right now when we already now have driverless trains in Sydney and there will be more in the future. Just re-skill the drivers we have now in the first place and save the hassle.

    • The90kwbeastMEMBER

      Isn’t the issue on pricing the oligopoly that woolies and coles have? Sorry but our produce is expensive enough as it is thanks without lining the pockets of the big two supermarkets any firther.

      My understanding is it’s them who are hoovering up all the margin in the supply chain and squeezing suppliers. Hence farms employing fruit pickers on $10ph trying to survive the latest aggressive negotiation with the big two supermarkets.

  5. Jumping jack flash

    “Australians are being warned they could be paying a lot more at the checkout for their fruit and vegetables this summer, and possibly taking home a lower-quality product…”

    Yes. First prices rise, then hopefully wages, but it all hinges on debt eligibility and availability. Availability isn’t usually the problem, there’s a ton of debt available and its never been cheaper. Eligibility is more the issue, and also that problem of the 5% ponzi buy-in.

    If the debt flows as effortlessly as water and washes through the economy like a tidal wave then people will no longer need to spend every dollar of spare capacity on acquiring the amounts of debt that are absolutely necessary. The debt will be easy to obtain. This will enable more spare capacity to be directed into inflating wages (which will allow more debt to be created, and so on).

  6. A lot of the labour is unlawful. Malaysian Chinese on ETA’s, Vietnamese, Thais etc on 976’s. All have no work rights. All controlled by Labour Hire Intermediaries and subordinates and used by farmers who when found with unlawfuls on their property can avoid prosecution by saying that thsy were told that the labour had work rights. It’s almost impossible to prosecute.