Aussie farms “the centrepiece for exploitation in this country”

Amid the reams of evidence showing that temporary migrants have been ruthlessly exploited on Australia’s farms, which has frequently been labelled “modern slavery”, the Australian Workers Union (AWU) recently lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to amend the Horticulture Award to guarantee a minimum casual rate of pay ($20.33 an hour) for all farm workers.

Last week, the FWC began hearing arguments from the AWU. National secretary, Dan Walton, told the Guardian that the agricultural industry had “become the centrepiece for exploitation in this country”, with employers paying as little as $3 an hour for labour.

The Guardian article lists a bunch of examples of temporary migrant workers earning slave wages, alongside the AWU and industry’s response:

  • Finnish backpacker Niko Karhu received $31.24 after spending five hours picking tomatoes on a Bundaberg farm last May. Karhu claimed there was minimal tomatoes available to be picked.
  • Moving to a chilli farm Karhu earned $32.40 for a day’s work.
  • Experienced picker Mahani Mohd Tif worked a seven-and-a-half-hour day picking strawberries, for which she received only $34.10. “Sometimes I got about $50, so about $300 a week”.
  • The UWU’s farm industry director, Jannette Armstrong, says “putting in a minimum wage floor will have no adverse impact on those growers doing the right thing and will in fact help them by eliminating unfair competition based on artificially low labour costs”.
  • But the National Farmers Federation claims a minimum wage would “render the industry less productive” – a view supported by Migration Council’s chair Innes Willox’s Australian Industry Group, which argues “The seasonal workforce commonly consists of backpackers and ‘grey nomads… For such workers, participation in the horticulture industry is with a view to supporting a holiday rather than supporting themselves generally”.

Once again, let’s cast our minds back to the 327-page report from the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee, released in March, which explicitly admitted that the agricultural industry’s overreliance on cheap migrant labour is bad for productivity and unsustainable:

Australia’s main competitors in agriculture are either ahead or running very close. In many ways, Australia is at a crossroads. Either its enterprises go all out to modernise by learning and adopting new methods, or they fall behind the others, occupying increasingly uncomfortable niches, relying on inadequately trained, low productivity workers, using the same old approaches that worked yesterday, and then finding themselves in a situation where business as usual has suddenly turned into business in decline…

Obviously, without easy access to cheap, exploitable migrant workers, Australia’s farms would be forced to raise wages to attract local workers. These higher wages would, in turn, encourage farms to seek out labour-saving technologies and automation, thereby raising productivity.

Indeed, with Australia’s border closed and the foreign worker tap shut off, we have already witnessed multiple examples of Australian farms undertaking productivity-enhancing investments in labour saving technologies, thus proving our point.

The Morrison Government’s recent decision to give farmers easier access to cheap, exploitable migrant workers from South East Asian Nations via a dedicated agricultural visa will undermine future investment by keeping wages artificially low, reducing incentives to automate.

The ultimate outcome will be the opposite of the recommendations from the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee above, which wants to see farmers “go all out to modernise by learning and adopting new methods”. Instead, the expansion of “inadequately trained, low productivity workers” will dilute the capital base and cause farm productivity to stagnate.

Unconventional Economist


  1. When our productivity is low enough we can start to ship food in FROM the food bowl of Asia or some other place that has automated for high productivity. (maybe about the same time our commodity exports are failing?) #bananarepublic

  2. kannigetMEMBER

    For such workers, participation in the horticulture industry is with a view to supporting a holiday rather than supporting themselves generally.

    Why would a grey nomad “holiday” by being a sub wage slave on a farm? Your not on holiday if your working on a farm, at the rates they pay your would have work 4 weeks to extend your holiday for an extra weekend…
    I know some of them are kinky buggers but that just pushes masochism a bit far….

    • Lord DudleyMEMBER

      Remember when TestosterTone started that the Holden workers had been “liberated” from their jobs? Same thing here. Working for illegally substandard wages is fine because it’s a “holiday”. These types of professional liars often do this. It’s why the party in Nineteen Eighty-Four had slogans like “freedom is slavery”… manipulative political psychopaths frequently engage in double-speak, and always have.

    • He’s implying they’re on income support (probably age pension) and can’t earn too much without affecting the pension, and for some reason they don’t care whether it takes four hours or forty to earn the amount they’re allowed to earn.

    • NoodlesRomanovMEMBER

      Even allowing for the odd weirdo that is fine to pick pineapples for the experience, it is still tone deaf to rest an argument against paying minimum wage on it.

  3. Lord DudleyMEMBER

    But I was told that farmers are all true blue dinky-di salt-of-the-Earth real Australians. Surely it couldn’t be the case that they’re trying to push wages through the floor by relying on illegally underpaid imported labour, thus destroying the future of young Australians!

    Nah, that can’t be true. No true Australian would ever do such a thing, right? After all, wage theft and taking advantage of people aren’t in the national character.

    Ha ha!

  4. Jumping jack flash

    Farmers are people, and people need debt. Stonking great piles of the stuff.

    And not just one pile of debt will do, you need more debt all the time. Its absolutely, totally essential don’t you know?
    Just try to buy a new tractor, shed, water tank, silo, refrigeration plant, or a good old-fashioned, dependable house without using debt. Absolutely impossible!

    Nobody has that much money just laying around in banks anymore, its all tied up for repaying debt. Banks needn’t even take deposits anymore, deposits are a liability and no self-respecting business wants liabilities on their books.

    In the New Economy the banks’ primary purpose and responsibility is to provide the essential debt to the people. As much debt as required, whenever it is required.

    The banks aren’t going to argue with that because after all, they designed the system. The debt is their product and while the debt exists they get paid for the privilege of people using it to buy things. Diabolical!

    The only thing that stands inbetween the farmer and their next pile of debt is their income, so they just steal someone else’s. Its all good, and absolutely necessary.

  5. SchillersMEMBER

    The Netherlands (Holland) is quite a small country, with a land mass of only 41,543km2. In 2017 they exported USD$92 BILLION of agricultural produce. They are the largest producer of food in the EU and the second largest worldwide (to America).
    Australian agricultural exports are approximately USD$37 billion a year. Our land mass is 7.692 MILLION km2.
    That’s roughly 185 times the size of the Netherlands.

    For well under half the output.

  6. Labour hire firms are the problem. Make farmers employ directly particularly if they want special visa’s and the like.

  7. First of all, the farmers never needed this backpacker labor.

    The large mega farms which produce over 90% of Australia’s domestic and export agricultural output are highly automated and industrialised.
    In fact they employ a small, and reducing number of very highly skilled workers who operating large scale industrial agricultural plant & machinery.

    It is the smaller farms, the ones that are marginal or lack the capacity to invest in automation or industrial scale farm infrastructure who are demanding these migrant guestworkers.

    And it’s not for their labour which was available from local youth or mature casual Australians.

    It’s for all the $$ cash flow that comes from providing a visa alibi for trafficking of migrants on backpackers etc visas to then work & live illegally in the cities.

    The farmers, the foreign criminal traffickers & their local ethnically aligned labor ring organisers collude to make mega bucks in the whole process of offshore recruitment, visa bribes, foreign agent doctor bribes, to provide the visa alibi to supply the Australian cities with an intake of migrants for blackmarket work or vice work.

    Then add on the cash flow from the agent procurers, labour ring organisers and the ‘farmers’ in providing the ‘accommodation’, ‘transport to & from slum hovels to the ‘farm work’, for food & services’ as well as the falsification of documents or ‘services’ in visa extension & visa churn.

    How it works.

    These small marginal or hobby farm will set aside a couple of paddocks and maybe an old barn as a slum hovel or else co-op to buy a humpy squat for the migrants near the town – and that is their money shot.

    The backpackers- dominated now by third world urban unskilled poor contingent will pay bribes to the foreign agent procurers & traffickers to get entry into Australia.

    Only a minority (30%) of these working holiday visa holders will actually work on a farm & even less register the ‘88 days on a farm for the visa extension’ & far less actually do it. All up less than 15% of the total backpacker intake time in Australia is actually spent doing any rural or farm work.

    The bulk of the backpackers will be actually working in the cities illegally – often with the farmer timesheets & signoff to say they are on the farm.


    But the backpackers are ‘exploited’ !

    👉🏾Willingly exploited.

    Let’s see the myths corrected.

    To recap.

    It’s all marginal to Australian agricultural production.

    It’s a visa trafficking industry of small Australian farmers in collusion with the migrant backpackers themselves, their agent procurers and the black market labour rings to provide a visa pretext alibi – very similar to the foreign student visa racket.

    🔹The migrants are not exploited.
    They know the score exactly. (Apart from the occasional naive Euro or UK backpacker who gullibly thinks this is a genuine working holiday scheme & squeals when they only earn $30 a day after ‘farmer, agent, labour ring, facilities, accommodation, food & transport services fees’ for the pretend make work visa alibi.. )

    The backpackers are more than willing collaborators. That’s why they pay huge bribes to the agent procurers, labour ring organisers and the farmers to just get into Australia on whatever visa they can.

    The intake is not seasoned hard working agricultural workers.

    They are dominated by third world urban slum itinerants, petty criminals, vice workers, replete with falsified offshore agent doctor health checks and with false identities.

    They will be heavy foreign agent procurer loan debt & working to repay the bribes & that loan debt & to send back remittances.

    Pre-organized with false identities, ABN numbers, to work in the city factory, the construction site or brothel all arranged.
    With the predetermined intent to breach their visa & COe, to live & work illegally.

    🔹The ‘farmers’ aren’t desperate for migrant labour. Nor is the Australian economy.

    The farmers are desperate for the cash flow and cash back payoffs from the agent procurers recruiting offshore in providing these visa alibis as yet another migrant trafficking racket.

    That’s what it’s all about.

    Australians should protest this rotten corrupt farce in visa fraud & migrant trafficking.

    • Been posting a lot lately mike MB, very vitriolic comments with a lot of truth in my opinion, quite enjoyable to read. You strike me as a boomer.

      • ha, a more a boomers echo.
        Yeah commented a bit / lockdown boredom.
        Out here in the western Sydney migrant zones making out like masked bandits or hijabi as the police vans circle around & horse patrols down the street.

        It’s that phrase ‘exploited migrants’ which always triggers me 😉

        Now I have lived with literally tens of thousands of intended migrants – back in China, across South East Asia, then India, Bangla, Middle East, Turkey & UK and then here, even coaching them thru arrivals, separate the documents, wiped phone / new sim / then off into the vast Sydney migrant slums to drop them off at the shop or the fetid squat in Belmore, or on the bus at central to the ‘farm work’. And lived in the so called Uni’s/colleges/ campuses, designing the fake courses or explaining the assignment answers to a mostly empty class of Korean & Chinese hookers & Indians shelf stackers sleeping off 16 hour shifts.
        And I have been on those farms – the shakedown and cash booty from the labor rings & ‘facilities providers’ and the farmers signing off the logbook for the visa extension.
        So apart from a few dumb UK or Euro’s who genuinely thought it would be a farm work experience where they could earn actual money…. everyone else knows the score.
        They aren’t exploited.
        It’s pretend farm work to get into Australia & then work in the cities. Or pay the agent & farmer the bribe for an extension.
        And Australian farms don’t need it. Like I said, the real farms that produce 90% or more of what we consume or export are highly automated & mechanised.

        There is a conga line of tens of million third world detritus all lined up, groomed, orientated, story ready, with the fake doc, fake health check, the loan debt & bribes paid ready to get in.

        Willingly exploited, paying bribes to be exploited.

        This working holiday visa – originally intended as Aust/UK/Ire/Canada ‘cultural experience’ where the guest was young & went back to their country of origin has now degraded into yet another third world unskilled mature adult migrant trafficking visa category.

        To get in, to live & work illegally in the cities, to repay loan debt, to send back remittances and to churn that visa to stay / try & snag a PR as an anchor for more like them.
        And these ‘smaller farmers’ whinging?
        Up to necks in assisting the visa fraud & taking money for it. If they aren’t growing dope, then they run a backpacker hostel for farm work & the migrant & agent cash payoff.

  8. In 2019, we had a record dry spell and yet had record farm prices. Something has to give and it ain’t farm prices.