Growcom today joins a universal declaration from farm industry groups that backpackers, and their freedom to work in our industry, play an essential and valued part in Australia’s food security.

This declaration comes in response to a call from an alliance of unions to scrap the Working Holiday Maker program that gives backpackers the option of staying longer here on holiday provided they contribute to our food security.

“Like it or not, backpackers are a large and essential part of the workforce available to growers and farmers. Our food supply is the envy of the world and is built on trust and connectedness. Consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables should know that often what they eat has been handled by a backpacker,” said fresh vegetable grower and Growcom Chair Belinda Adams.

“More growers rely entirely on backpacker labour than any other source of labour. And for many backpackers, working in the Australian horticulture industry is an enjoyable and rewarding rite of passage. If improving the working conditions on-farm is the objective, outlawing backpackers isn’t the answer.”

Horticulture peak bodies have rightly responded strongly to the characterisation by the union movement of our entire industry as lawless and run by cowboys.

“The call to scrap the Working Holiday Maker program isn’t a constructive contribution to what is a legitimate debate. While good for a headline, the unions are clearly leaving room to change the form of the program rather than have it removed. We would love to have their views on what an alternate visa program would look like,” said Growcom Acting CEO Richard Shannon

“We agree that improving working conditions is important for all workers. By doing this, employers can also attract a local workforce. Employing Australians remains the preference of our industry and is more important than ever as we find our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unions have unfortunately overlooked the important initiatives undertaken voluntarily by industry to improve our employment practices across the board.

“Growcom, with the support of industry bodies and supply chain partners, is delivering Fair Farms, an independent certification of ethical employment practice on-farm that ensures that no worker, backpacker or otherwise, is exploited or underpaid.

“We value AWU as a member of the reference group that helped design Fair Farms and would welcome ongoing input from the union movement on how the program can be continuously improved.   

“We’ve seen a great amount of interest from farmers in becoming Fair Farms certified as a way of proving their ethical credentials to supply chain partners. Now the three major supermarkets all accept this proof, we’ve received even more interest.

“Responsibility is also shared with consumers who should be considering what impact low prices do along the supply chain. By accepting Fair Farms, retailers have taken an important first step securing the standard of employment practice expected by consumers.

“We expect to see growth in demand for Fair Farm certification to continue to grow.”

More background on Fair Farms can be found here: https://www.fairfarms.com.au/