The Australian Workers' Union, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association and the Transport Workers' Union have formed an alliance, calling for a ban on working holidaymaker visa. The unions want Australian farmers to stop hiring international backpackers to harvest their crops and instead employ young people in regional and rural areas.
In a submission to a federal review of the farm workforce, the Retail Supply Chain Alliance claimed the backpacker program was rife with exploitation and called for more Australians to work on farms as well as an expansion of the seasonal worker program.
It comes days after industry body the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) told a parliamentary inquiry that removing working holidaymakers would cost the economy $13 billion and could drive up the price of fresh fruit and vegetables by as much as 60 per cent.
AFPA estimated almost 130,000 people on the working holidaymaker visa were typically employed across the sector, but backpacker numbers have fallen by 50,000 since Australia introduced restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 earlier this year, reports ABC News.
Comments from horticulture
Farm industry groups have made a universal declaration that backpackers, and their freedom to work in the farming industry, play an essential and valued part in Australia’s food security.
“Like it or not, backpackers are a large and essential part of the workforce available to growers and farmers. Our food supply is the envy of the world and is built on trust and connectedness. Consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables should know that often what they eat has been handled by a backpacker,” said fresh vegetable grower and Growcom Chair Belinda Adams.
“More growers rely entirely on backpacker labour than any other source of labour. And for many backpackers, working in the Australian horticulture industry is an enjoyable and rewarding rite of passage. If improving the working conditions on-farm is the objective, outlawing backpackers isn’t the answer.”
The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) says unions calling for a ban on seasonal workers from overseas either don’t understand or don’t care about the impact it would have on Australia’s food prices, jobs and the economy. “Migrant worker programs underpin 127,000 jobs in the fresh produce industry and supply chain, supporting rural and regional communities, and contributing $13 billion to the national economy”, said Michael Rogers, AFPA CEO.
“Backpacker workers have been essential to bringing in Australia’s fruit and vegetable harvest for more than 20 years. If they are taken out of the system now, the availability of fresh Australian fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves will dwindle”.