The department of immigration says that the exploitation of foreign workers in Australia is hard to uncover. ABCs hidden cameras however had no trouble revealing some of the shocking practices. There are now calls for the introduction of a low-skill work visa to allow for greater transparency and monitoring of foreign workers in the agriculture industry.
A Four Corners investigation this week has revealed that food being picked, packed and processed by exploited workers is being sold to consumers nationwide. The programme alleges that supermarkets and fast food outlets are involved naming Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, IGA, Costco, KFC, Red Rooster and Subway as retailers receiving produce from such suppliers.
Baiada, Australia’s largest poultry supplier came under the spotlight in the programme with allegations that it has deliberately engaged labour contractors in order to avoid direct responsibility for the exploitation. Baiada has previously been caught out by the Fairwork Ombudsman for underpaying workers, according to the programme.
The report says that workers are forced to work a relentless pace, criticized and abused endlessly, not allowed to drink water or even go to the toilet for hours on end. They live in cramped quarters and are paid well below the minimum wage with the contractors skimming off on their wages. There are claims that underpayment is estimated in some cases at about AU$30,000 per individual per year.
“All of the major suppliers are using dodgy labour hire contracting arrangements that fundamentally exploit the workers who pick and pack the vegetables,” alleged George Robertson of the National Union of Workers, Victoria.
Industry insiders and federal politicians are calling for urgent reforms to Australia’s fresh food supply chain before it is too late. There are calls at a federal level for the supermarkets to stop shirking responsibility by passing accountability back to the suppliers and farmers. There have been calls to introduce a low-skill work visa in order allow for more transparency and monitoring by the authorities.
“We will be known as a country that exploits vulnerable people who are looking for a better chance at life,” warned Labour law academic Dr Joanna Howe, a senior lecturer with the University of Adelaide Law who called for urgent reform.
“We would never accept this if it were Australian workers being treated in this way, but because it’s 417 visa holders and we don’t know them, there’s a lid on it, we accept that it’s OK” said Dr Howe.
Assistant Minister for Immigration, Senator Michaelia Cash issued a media statement indicating that the majority of employers are doing the right thing and the Four Corners programme’s allegations while concerning are exceptions.
“Both the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the FWO are active in ongoing compliance campaigns to ensure that 417 visa holders are being paid in accordance with Australian pay and conditions” said Senator Cash.
Source: Migration Alliance