Earlier this year, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) called for a Dedicated Agriculture Visa program ease purported chronic labour shortages across the sector:
To provide a stable and sustainable workforce for agriculture that is fair and equitable for both workers and employers, the NFF supports the introduction of a Dedicated Agriculture Visa program… providing a consistent stream of workers for agriculture – particularly in remote and regional areas…
Agriculture’s growth largely depends on solving the industry’s serious labour shortages…
Studies have shown that more than 60% of growers in the fruit and vegetable sector experience difficulty recruiting workers…
The NFF supports the development of a dedicated agriculture visa to provide an avenue for consistent stream of workers for agriculture and to provide farmers certainty.
The NFF’s call for a Dedicated Agriculture Visa came despite there being abundant evidence of temporary migrants being ruthlessly exploited on Australia’s farms.
Many Australian farms have also flat out refused to employ local workers because they have to be paid a legal wage and are far less easy to exploit.
A new survey by Victoria’s Migrant Worker Centre and Unions NSW claims that 78% of horticulture workers have been underpaid at some stage, while around 25% stated that they have had shifts of as little as one hour per day:
The lowest daily wages were reported by grape and zucchini workers, who claimed that they were paid as little as $9 an hour:
According to the survey, about 15 per cent are paid between $0 and $7 an hour, 16 per cent earned $16 to $19 and only 11 per cent were paid $20 to $23. In some instances workers said they earned less than $1 an hour.
The lowest daily wages were reported in the grape and zucchini farms, where workers earned an average $9 a day, and blueberry farms, where workers earned $10 a day.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said… “the toxic reality is that the overwhelming majority of workers in this sector are being ripped off”…
Joanna Howe, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide Law School, recently noted that that visa reforms by the Howard Government giving farmers greater access to migrant workers “completely changed the nature of the workforce” by pushing Australians out of these jobs and ushering the exploitation and wage theft so prevalent across the industry:
“Over the last two decades, the Howard government visa extensions for backpackers who work in horticulture and the seasonal worker program for Pacific Island workers completely changed the nature of the workforce”…
“That prompted the Australians who worked in the industry, including grey nomads, school leavers and long-term horticulture workers to leave and find other work”…
“Horticulture is an industry where there’s non-compliance with Labour standards… which skews the labour market downwards”…
“If the labour standards were enforced, you would see more Australians [back] in the industry”…
As MB keeps explaining, 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.
Australia’s farm sector coped just fine pre-2000 before the migrant slave labour tap was turned on. It’s time to go back to the future.
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