As we know, the Morrison Government has introduced a new Agricultural Visa that from the end of this month. This visa will allow regional businesses across the horticultural, meat processing, fisheries and forestry sectors to hire an uncapped number of indentured migrant labour from 10 South-East Asian nations with the promise of permanent residency if they commit to working beyond three years:
“This is about the next generation of migrants who will build regional Australia,” [Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said]
“We want to build these jobs in regional Australia and build the population and capacity of regional Australia with these jobs. So the pathway to permanent residency is an exciting tool”…
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It will start on September 30 and apply to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers for a three-year period. Workers who wish to commit to working beyond three years in the sectors would be given a route to permanent residency.
Curiously, at the same time as the Morrison Government has opened the immigration floodgates for farmers, unemployed Aussies have been locked out of doing farm work [my emphasis]:
Farmers are calling for thousands of workers for this winter’s grain harvest, but unemployed Australians say health departments are making them wait months for approval to cross state borders to take up the jobs…
Rob… is in his 50s, but is fit and experienced. He has worked on farms his whole life. He’s been unemployed for two years, living off his savings in Hamilton, in regional Victoria.
In the first half of this year, he applied for fruit picking jobs across the country but was unable to land one. Now, he’s trying to get in on the crop harvest, but can’t cross the state border to the closest jobs…
Australia’s grain industry is not riddled with the same issues as fruit and vegetable picking.
Every worker is paid an hourly rate, as opposed to piece rates, and there is no reliance on cheap foreign labour…
Rod said he has struggled to land a job this season – and thinks his age might be a factor.
“Some of the ads finish with ‘we want uni students’,” he said.
“It irritates me, they bang on that they can’t get anyone. I apply for farm jobs and I don’t hear anything”…
Programmed Skilled Workforce has been campaigning to get 3000 Australians working on the grain harvest doing blue-collar jobs.
In just three weeks they’ve had almost 2000 applications.
“We’ve been really pleased with the take-up,” executive general manager David Hele said.
“It’s a big mix of different people. It’s younger applicants, mature ones, males and females, people who are out of work due to COVID. School leavers and travellers.”
The pay ranges from $27 to $35 per hour for an average 30-60 hour working week.
There was more interest from locals to take up these harvest jobs because there was less risk of being exploited, he said.
Reports like this are nothing new. Last year we heard that many Australian farms refuse to employ local workers because they have to be paid a legal wage and are far less easy to exploit than migrants.
Data from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) also showed that 10,500 job seekers found fruit picking jobs in the second half of 2020. More tellingly, an additional 3,500 who were fit and prepared to do the work applied for work but were rejected, which is at odds with claims by farmers that they were desperate for workers:
“It makes very clear that the government is either negligent or lying when they say that people are not actually moving into work off unemployment payments when they’re being given these opportunities,” [Unemployed Workers’ Union spokesperson Kristin O’Connell said].
She said it was absolutely possible to get unemployed workers to fill the labour shortage, but the number of rejections suggested some farmers didn’t want to employ Australians.
Allowing Australia’s farmers to continuously recruit cheap foreign workers en masse is bad for both wages and long-run productivity.
Australia’s mining industry is the world’s best and most efficient because it attracts workers to far out places by paying excellent wages. These high labour costs have then helped drive automation and productivity lifting investment.
It stands to reason that if the cheap migrant labour pipeline is restricted, then farms will be forced to lift wages. In turn, farms will be incentivised to automate and lift productivity, boosting both profits and wages over the longer-term.
The opposite will occur under the Morrison Government’s slave driving Agricultural Visa, which encourages farms to become dependent on cheap foreign labour. These visas will cause capital to shallow, productivity to stagnate, and both wages and profits to ultimately decline.
Australians aren’t inherently lazy. But they do know when they are being exploited and paid slave wages.
The solution to farm labour shortages is to offer decent wages, as the grain harvesters have done. Do that and Aussies will line up for those jobs.