Ag labour's 'underbelly' on the agenda

30 Jun, 2014 04:00 AM
We want to ensure our seasonal workers are protected ...

CONTRACT labour hire complaints were the subject of a Brisbane forum on Friday in a bid to address ongoing damaging allegations in the agricultural sector.

Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt and Senator Barry O’Sullivan brought peak industry bodies and businesses together to hear first hand the difficulties workers, hostels, farmers and legitimate labour hire contractors have faced. They will now take those concerns to Canberra.

Mr Pitt, a former cane farmer and training provider, said the increasing number of very serious complaints made to his office prompted him to organise the forum with Senator O’Sullivan.

“Allegations range from the underpayment and exploitation of workers to tax evasion, visa breaches, racial discrimination, intimidation of farmers and overcrowding in private residential properties,” Mr Pitt said.

“One of the problems people face in formally reporting their complaint is the sheer number of agencies involved across all three levels of government. In many cases they are just too scared to give their name to the authorities.

“Today’s forum has helped us flesh out some of the issues. Now, we will be asking our ministerial colleagues to help us cut this blemish out before it grows and spoils what is by-and-large a very reputable industry.

“We want to ensure our seasonal workers are protected; that businesses have a level playing field and Australia remains a destination of choice for overseas students and working holiday makers.”

Stakeholders at the forum agreed on a number of key points, primarily that seasonal workers were vital to the sector and that the majority of contractors, hostels, growers and workers act lawfully.

The forum also agreed external cost and time pressures have increased the industry’s utilisation of low-cost labour hire contractors, and anecdotal evidence suggests the problem has escalated significantly in recent years.

Another message was that offending contractors are highly organised and, due to the transient nature of the workforce, are masters at avoiding detection.

Senator O’Sullivan, a former police detective, said maintaining strong communication channels between industry and enforcement agencies was essential to investigating and prosecuting those conducting illegal activities.

“Whether it is concerns over labour, profitability or trade, the most practical and relevant solutions are those developed by industry,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“The participation of so many peak bodies at this meeting illustrates industry’s willingness and desire to confront these employment issues.

“Growers must remain vigilant in their willingness to report illegal contracting arrangements.

“Our international reputation is dependent on Australia’s ability to develop practical and ethical labour sourcing strategies.”

Scenic Rim Mayor and Ausveg board member John Brent chaired the forum, which was attended by representatives from Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers, Growcom, Ausveg, AWX Group, Kilkoy Pastoral Company, Kalfresh, JBS Australia, State MPs Jon Krause and Ian Rickuss, Scenic Rim Regional Council, Lockyer Valley Regional Council, Southern Downs Regional Council and Multicultural Community Centre in Gatton.



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Why do they forget the small producers they are the backbone of the industry. What. Did this
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Good these guys will be able to help the farmers they are treating like second class peasants.
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Lets' hope Troy Grant doesn't Delforce's website or it will be yet another NSW