Labor pledges farm exploitation crackdown

Labor pledges farm exploitation crackdown

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WATCHING: Federal Labor has committed to reforms that would end exploitation in the horticulture sector.

WATCHING: Federal Labor has committed to reforms that would end exploitation in the horticulture sector.

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The Labor party has its sights set on farm worker exploitation.

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FEDERAL Labor has backed cracking down on shocking exploitation of farm workers but stopped short of supporting calls for a royal commission.

The party's conference on Wednesday agreed on changes to its policy platform, which commits an Albanese government to reforms that end exploitation in horticulture.

Labor has pledged to immediately end the structural exploitation of workers, while also reviewing visa schemes that bring foreign workers to pick fruit on farms.

Labour hire firms would face stronger oversight, enforcement and penalties for illegal conduct.

Research has found horticulture workers were paid as little as $3 an hour to pick fruit, with backpackers and other foreign employees the target of exploitation.

"Australia must urgently address the horticulture sector's structural dependence on visa workers and the exploitation and lowering of working conditions that this generates," the amendment states.

While the unions have demanded a royal commission, the changes to Labor's platform did not include an inquiry.

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The push came from an alliance of powerful right faction unions, the Australian Workers' Union, Transport Workers' Union and Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.

AWU assistant national secretary Misha Zelinsky said workers had been subject to wage theft, sexual and physical assaults, and a range of other awful conditions.

"Our horticulture sector is out of control. Our fruit and vegetable growers believe the laws don't apply to them," he told delegates at the conference.

"This is a sector that is addicted to exploitation. It's exploitation that must end."

Mr Zelinsky said the change to Labor's platform committed the party to cracking down on rorts in the working holiday maker visa scheme.

The amendment also expressed the ALP's support for the AWU's case in the Fair Work Commission to guarantee farm workers minimum wage.

Many horticulture workers are paid on "piece rates", which depend on the amount of fruit picked or vegetables harvested.

The National Farmers' Federation has been keeping an eye on the AWU's case, cautioning against conflating piece rates with the serious issue of underpayment.

NFF chief executive officer Tony Mahar said piece work rates were a legal, well-established framework in the horticulture sector.

"Piece rates should enable a competent worker to earn 15pc more than the minimum hourly wage," Mr Mahar said.

"Abolishing piece rates won't fix the acknowledged issue of worker underpayment."

"Right now, a worker shortage of up to 26,000 is forcing farmers to leave fruit and vegetables unpicked to rot and to downscale future plantings."

  • Australian Associated Press, with additional reporting by Good Fruit & Vegetables.

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