POST 64: IT’S TIME TO PHASE OUT AUSTRALIA’S CORRUPTED BACKPACKERS PROGRAM

Summary

Australia’s agriculture industry needs a clean out. It is plagued by non-existent workplace standards, worker exploitation and wage theft involving unscrupulous Labour hire companies.[1] The latest allegations is contractors paying working holidaymakers $60 per day on Berry farms. And manipulating foreign workers to accept below award wages for visa extensions.[2] The Working Holiday Makers has become a corrupted migration program.

Government inquiry into Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) Program fails to deliver

With shocking evidence provided of wage theft and foreign worker exploitation. Almost in a cocoon of denial, a Joint Government Committee recommended a big expansion of the WHMs program.[3]

According to the Committee, the key to supplying more workers to regional industries is through increasing the partnering WHMs countries from the current crop of 44. There are another 17 partner countries under negotiation.[4]

Academics provided evidence to the Committee. Their report surveyed 1440 WMHs and found that 32 per cent of WHMs earned $12 per hour or less and 46 percent earned $15 or less in their lowest paid job. At the time of the survey the standard hourly rate for a casual worker under the Horticulture Award was $22.13.[5]

In November 2020, the unscrupulous side of Australia’s agriculture industry was revealed once more. Research by the McKell Institute claims contractors have convinced young foreign workers to accept below-award wages to roll over their working holiday visas.[6]

It is startling that the Government report failed to recognise the intractable flaws within the WHMs program making it open to underhand uses. The inquiry was given evidence that backpackers are only working in fresh produce due to the requirement to undertake this work to secure a second WHM visa and remain in Australia for another 12 months. [7]

Clearly the way the WHMs program has been modified, it now offers a third year extension, makes it even more in demand for foreign workers. But the program is clearly corrupted and needs to be gradually withdrawn.[8]

It is time for the Government to incentivise more Australian’s to regional work. This is a permanent fix and will help clean up the industry. How can this be done?

Western Australia Party remedies for regional labour supply.

It was pleasing to see the Labor government move away from their proposal for an amnesty for illegal immigrants to work in regional WA.

The Labor Party echoed what WAP have been arguing since the international borders were closed. Incentivise West Australian workers to go work in the regions.

There is no shortage of willing workers, if there are good jobs and conditions. There are 100,000 West Aussies looking for work with a worrying youth unemployment rate at 13.4%.[9] 

It is promising the McGowan government have had some success with it’s regional worker incentive program. The scheme has had 212 successful applicants since it launched two months ago, and 251 are still pending.[10]

It is encouraging that Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan is lobbying for people receiving Jobseeker payments to continue to get that money for working in low paying farm jobs. It’s a way to incentivise more West Australians to fill the labour gap. We support the Minister’s comments “it might be the thing that eventually inspires people — this might be a long-term alternative.”

Such an incentive could be the catalyst for a transition from a WHMs migration program that has become unscrupulous. To one which is able to sustain a local workforce, is profitable for regional industries and can rely on the supply of WA workers at seasonal and harvest periods.

References


[1] PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA, ‘Final Report of the Inquiry into the Working Holiday Maker Program’, Australia <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Migration/WorkingHolidayMaker/Report> [accessed 2 December 2020].

[2] Peter Ryan, ‘Isabel Was Paid $120 for a Week’s Work and Was Threatened with Losing Her Visa If She Didn’t Accept’, 2020 <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-04/report-alleges-wage-theft-by-labour-hire-blueberry-farms/12947394> [accessed 4 December 2020].

[3] PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA.

[4] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘BR0110 Working Holiday Maker Visa Program Report 30 June 2020’, 2020, p. 00 <https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/what-we-do/whm-program/overview> [accessed 2 December 2020].

[5] PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA.

[6] Peter Ryan.

[7] PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA.

[8] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, p. 011.

[9] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Labour Force, Australia, October 2020’, 2020 <https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia/latest-release> [accessed 19 November 2020].

[10] Marty McCarthy and Lucy Barbour, ‘Out-of-Work Aussies Are Being Offered up to $6,000 to Relocate for Harvest Jobs, but Only 148 Have Signed Up’, 2020 <https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2020-12-04/harvest-in-jeopardy-as-farm-labour-incentives-fail/12947974> [accessed 4 December 2020].

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