Just days after a Liberal-chaired parliamentary committee called for a dedicated agriculture visa, which would give farmers easier access to cheap labour, The New Daily has published another stinging report on the ‘legalised exploitation’ of migrant workers on Australian farms:
A German woman has told how she couldn’t afford to eat while being paid less than the price of a cup of coffee thanks to a minimum-wage loophole on Australian farms.
In one case of what’s being labelled “legal exploitation”, Carmen Hardt was paid just $19 for two days work picking zucchinis on a Bundaberg property last year.
As her farm experience rolled on Ms Hardt got quicker but she barely made a liveable wage.
On top of this, one of the hostels she was forced to stay at by her employer charged $250 a week.
“The hostels give you just enough work to pay your rent sometimes not even that,” she told The New Daily…
Between February and July this year, Ms Hardt did a stint in the Victorian town of Shepparton for a big apple farm.
They told her in the interview she would be paid piece rate and forced to stay in their accommodation with nine other girls, at a cost of $175 a week.
I made $30-ish in 11 hours because the fruit wasn’t good enough or ripe enough during that time’’.
Because of the pandemic, and the need to complete rural work to qualify for her visa, Ms Hardt was stuck on the farm. She made $585 in her best week there.
The minimum casual wage in Australia is $753.80 per 38-hour week.
She said the experience made her regret coming to this country.
This follows The New Daily’s other investigative reports (here, here , here and here), which show that thousands of Australians have been rejected for farm work because they must be paid legal wages and are less easy to exploit.
The Australian Workers Union has demanded that farm workers earn the minimum wage:
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton told the ABC that growing evidence of systemic underpayments through the use of shady labour-hire firms showed minimum conditions for workers needed to be nailed down in law.
“This industry has become the epicentre for exploitation around the country. People know in every corner of Australia that the fruit and vegetable industry by and large has some of the worst exploitation that’s going on,” Mr Walton said.
“We want this industry to offer people decent jobs. But until we start cleaning up and getting proper enforcement in this industry, unfortunately stories of people getting $3 an hour will continue.”
As MB keeps saying, allowing Australia’s farmers to pluck cheap migrant 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.
One wonders how Australia survived (not starved) for so many generations before the industry was corrupted by greedy labour hire companies abusing temporary migrants with poor wages and working conditions?
The whole industry needs a clean-out, not support from the Coalition government.