Govt urged to give illegal farm workers amnesty: ag workforce report

Govt urged to give illegal farm workers amnesty to help labour crisis

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Up to 100,000 undocumented farm workers would be given a pass to stay in Australia.

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Up to 100,000 undocumented farm workers would be given a pass to stay in Australia under recommendations made to the Morrison government.

A major report into Australia's agricultural labour crisis has called for sweeping changes to fix the shortage and exploitation of workers in the sector.

The government-commissioned agricultural workforce strategy was released on Friday after more than a year of development.

The committee described the coronavirus pandemic as a unique chance to design a one-off program allowing undocumented people to stay.

"It is a potentially dangerous situation for the Australian public to have 60,000 to 100,000 overseas workers avoiding contact with clinics and hospitals," the report says.

Last week, Nationals backbenchers backed an amnesty or visa resolution for the thousands undocumented farm workers.

The report also urges the government to allow JobSeeker payments to be immediately paused and resumed so people can take up short-term farm jobs without bureaucratic hurdles.

"Research has found this is a bigger factor than any purported laziness," it says.

It made a raft of recommendations aimed at cracking down on dodgy employers after evidence of backpacker and migrant worker exploitation on farms.

Bosses would have to meet a fit and proper person registration to get access to the working holiday maker visa scheme

That would make it easier for authorities to track workers' pay and conditions.

Employers would face a five-year ban from employing backpackers if found breaking workplace or migration laws.

The committee also recommended the government tell supermarkets to conduct random independent supply chain audits to weed out exploitation.

If states and territories do not adopt the same strict labour hire mandatory licensing scheme as Queensland within a year, the federal government should pass national laws.

But the committee rejected industry calls for a dedicated agriculture visa, saying improving existing programs could meet labour needs.

It called for rules around two migrant worker schemes - the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme - to be closer aligned.

The report recommends an advertising campaign, similar to the Australian Defence Force or Minerals Council, to attract people to work in the sector.

Among the 37 recommendations, there is a heavy focus on improving education and training to boost the future workforce.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government would consult with industry and state counterparts on the report.

"The development of a fit-for-purpose workforce for our farming sector is part of the Australian Government's Ag2030 plan in support of industry's $100 billion target by 2030," he said.

"The government will respond to the strategy report in the coming months and the meantime we will continue to address the immediate needs of our farmers for workers."

*Story by AAP

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