A free trade deal between Britain and Australia has meant the British Working Visa 88-day regional work component has been quashed.
According to the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), a new visa scheme enabling agricultural workers to be recruited from 10 South East Asian nations is designed to replace the flow of easily exploited British workers.
"Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have decided it's wrong for Brits to be exposed to exploitation and abuse on Australian farms, but apparently it's okay for Southeast Asians," said AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton.
10 ASEAN countries and their citizens will now have the opportunity to come and work in Australian agricultural fields. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised the new Ag Visa for ASEAN country citizens will be up and running by the end of the year.
Over the last few years, concerns surrounding numerous reports of exploitation and underpay have been the topic of discussion and push for change from union groups.
"Johnson rightly told Morrison he needed to scrap the 88-day requirement for Brits to work on Australian farms, because they were being routinely exploited and abused. They're not alone — citizens from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and many others have raised similar concerns. But now David Littleproud is telling Southeast Asians to come on down for the same treatment. It's shameless, stupid, and immoral,” said Mr Walton.
Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud has put down the “very disingenuous campaign by the unions to demonise Australian farmers” by stating that a number of individual cases does not represent the broader farming sector.
“There have been dangerous generalisations of demonisation of Australian farmers of exploiting workers. That is not the general nature of Australian farming industry. The vast majority do the right thing. And like any industry, there are always people who cut the corners. They are the minority,” said Mr Littleproud.
The Australian Workers Union, however, strongly believe the proposal will encourage an explosion of abuse and exploitation on Australian farms.
“It’s already so bad, it warrants a Royal Commission”.
An investigation into the blueberry industry on the NSW North Coast in 2020 found systemic wage theft and intentional worker underpayment by labour hire firms.
A report, commissioned by AWU found foreign workers earning as little as $3 an hour.
The report by the McKell Institute claims contractors used by some farms in the Coffs Harbour region have convinced young foreign workers to accept below-award wages to roll over their working holiday visas.
AWU’s Daniel Walton believes fair wages, protection and regulation aimed at Australian workers would combat the shortage and encourage Australian residents to engage in a rewarding albeit hardworking industry.
"Much of the labour shortfall on farms could be made up quickly by providing Australian-standard wages and protections. Where there are still gaps, programs like the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program are much better than simply opening the gates to vulnerable Southeast Asian workers without adequate rights and protections."