Migrant worker report has implications for growers

The Federal Government has released a report on migrant workers, including those in horticulture, that recommends a national labour hire registration scheme and stronger enforcement against employers who don’t pay their staff properly.

“The report contains recommendations that could have significant implications for the horticulture industry,” said Mr Rob Hayes, State Manager – Harvest Trail, MADEC.

After almost two and a half years of work, the Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce was released on the 7th March 2019.

The Taskforce was set up in October 2016 to protect vulnerable workers following reports of systemic underpayment of migrant workers in 7-Eleven convenience stores and the horticulture industry.

“Many growers do employ migrant workers to help them pick or pack fresh produce or do other jobs across the industry. These workers play an important role in horticulture, so it is imperative they are paid according to their legal rights,” said Mr Hayes.

 

In their overview of the report, Taskforce Chair, Professor Allan Fels, and Deputy Chair, Professor David Cousins said “Wage underpayment may be inadvertent, but the outcome is no different as to when it is deliberate. The terms wage exploitation and wage theft are more emotive, but also apt descriptions of the problem, which in essence involves employers not complying with the minimum legal entitlements of their employees”.

The Government has accepted in principle all 22 recommendations in the report including some that are particularly relevant to horticulture:

  • The establishment of a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme targeted at industries identified as being at higher risk for worker exploitation.
  • The introduction of criminal sanctions for the most serious forms of deliberate exploitation of workers.
  • Greater resources and funding for the Fair Work Ombudsman for enforcement activity.
  • Additional resources and funding to other regulators to support enforcement activity.

Professors Fels and Cousins added, “Wage exploitation of temporary migrants offends our national values of fairness. It harms not only the employees involved, but also the businesses which do the right thing.

“We are concerned not just at the incidence of wage exploitation, but also with the detriment suffered by employees as a result of this conduct. The experience of the 7-Eleven wage remediation program provides numerous lessons for businesses and governments in what can and should be done in this area”.

MADEC also supports the recommendations of the report and welcomes reform to the industry.

“Growers who are doing the right thing by their workers should not be disadvantaged by those who are underpaying their staff,” said Mr Hayes.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman website has resources that growers can use to help them check their own financial records and it has guides to using labour hire providers.”

MADEC also manages the Harvest Trail which is provided at no cost to growers to help them find people to fill on-farm seasonal job vacancies.

More information

Rob Hayes, State Manager – National Harvest Labour Information Service, MADEC

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