By Growcom CEO David Thomson
Growcom welcomes the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce Report released last week, which includes 22 recommendations by Dr Allan Fels AO to better protect vulnerable workers from exploitation.
The recommendations, supported ‘in principle’ by the federal government, include criminal sanctions for deliberate exploitation, a bolstering of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s capacity, and the development of a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme.
Growcom also welcomes the release of an additional report led by University of South Australia associate law professor Dr Joanna Howe, Towards a Durable Future: Tackling Labour Challenges in the Australian Horticulture Industry. A key finding of this report was a chronic shortage of legitimate, willing and capable workers within certain growing areas.
Dr Howe’s report, commissioned by VegetablesWA and supported by the National Farmers’ Federation, revealed some growers felt forced to rely upon ‘undocumented’ migrants working outside their visa conditions.
The current visas being used in this space include the backpacker and working holiday maker visas which are insufficient and are at risk of being abused by farm employers and labour hire contractors looking to fill the workforce.
We support the NFF in calling for the development of an agriculture-specific visa to help match reliable migrant workers with jobs in agriculture.
This visa would have in-built compliance requirements to ensure overseas workers entering Australia are doing so via legal means and in accordance with visa conditions.
An important component of an ag visa would be that only growers who demonstrate their compliance through the Fair Farms Certification Program or a similar scheme would be able to access migrant workers.
By rewarding compliant farm employers with access to a pool of legal workers, we can ensure labour laws are upheld and farmers’ workforce needs are met.
An ag visa would give growers an extra incentive to participate in the Fair Farms Program which will go a long way towards educating workers on their rights and employers on their obligations to give both parties confidence they are contributing to a compliant and reliable workforce.