Plans to fix worker shortages for fruit harvests by allowing backpackers to stay longer has already fallen foul of the unions.
The Federal Government’s working holiday visa scheme will prop up more exploitation in agriculture, according to the Australian Workers’ Union.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new plan in Queensland yesterday.
The Katherine mango harvest is just one of those regions hard hit by previous government schemes to tax backpacker incomes.
Mr Morrison said backpackers and other visitors on working holidays will be able to stay in Australia longer to help farmers fill job shortages.
Pacific islanders taking up seasonal work will be able to stay three months more and the age limit for working holiday visas for some countries will be lifted to 35.
Backpackers will no longer need to leave jobs every six months and will be able to triple the length of their stay if they do extra agricultural work.
The changes come after the Nationals failed to deliver a promised agricultural visa and an attempt to force jobless Australians to pick fruit and tend to animals was dismissed by the industry.
A report published last week found backpackers in Australia, about a third of whom are paid less than $12 an hour, are owed billion dollars in unpaid wages.
"The government needs to be very clear about how it's going to deal with those abuses and how it's going to create more opportunities for Australians to work in agricultural work," Dr Leigh told Sky News.
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack denied the changes were an admission his party's push for an agricultural visa was dead in the water.
A rule that forced some backpackers to work in northern Australia is also being dumped. They will instead be allowed to work in a far wider range of regions throughout the country.
Australia's agricultural sector has almost doubled in value into a $63.4 billion industry over the past decade.
Some 419,000 backpackers visited Australia last year, spending 1.4 million nights in regional areas where they spent $920 million.
AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said while some individual measures in the changes might stack up, the overall effect would be to increase exploitation in an industry already rife with it.
"We should be very careful not to overstate the job shortage issue,” he said.
“The Harvest Trail JobSearch website indicates there are 1,774 vacancies nationally for picking jobs, from an industry that employees well over 100,000 casual workers. That doesn’t appear to be a lot of vacancies," Mr Walton said.
The website lists seven jobs in Katherine..
"To the extent that there are vacancies we should be asking why. The Prime Minister's explanation is that young Australians are inherently lazy and allergic to work. The AWU's explanation is that Australians will not accept working under exploitative, unsafe conditions. These are the conditions that are rife in the agricultural and horticultural sectors.
"The Working Holiday visa scheme encourages exploitation by its very nature. Exploitation under this scheme is not rare.
"The incentives for the Working Holiday visa scheme are all wrong. Employees just want to check off their days so they can stay on. Employers have no interest in building a normal and healthy employer/employee relationship. No responsible Australian Government should be encouraging the expansion of this dynamic.
"If the government was serious about improving labour supply and reducing exploitation they could simply make these new measures accessible to approved employers only. This is what happens under the Seasonal Worker Programme. The reason they won’t do this is they know many growers and farmers would not get approved.
"We think workers are entitled to a lawful and safe industry."
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