ACTU president Michele O’Neil (Photo: Twitter)

September 29, 2021

The ACTU has slammed the Federal Government’s new agriculture visa program, claiming it will exploit migrant workers and displace local jobs.

The peak union body said the visa had been initially touted as a working visa for ASEAN member countries but now had no restrictions on where workers can come from, where in Australia they could work, what jobs they could do or the number of visas available.

“This visa will create a second-class workforce in the agriculture, fisheries, forestry and meatworks sectors who will have none of the protections or rights that all Australian workers should be able to rely on,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.

“Workers in regional areas know what happens when employers get their way on visas – mass exploitation, rock-bottom wages, dangerous conditions and no jobs for local workers.

“Visa programs should be aimed at filling genuine skill gaps and providing a path to permanent residency for workers. This visa scheme makes no attempt to independently verify gaps in the labour market and has no guaranteed path to residency for workers.

“This program is simply about giving big business a way to slash wages by exploiting vulnerable migrant workers. Once again, the Morrison Government has caved to business interests and abandoned working people.

“This visa represents an enormous step back for workers’ rights.

“Minister (David) Littleproud describes it as ‘the biggest structural change to the agriculture workforce in our nation’s history’. Australian workers should be able to expect that historic workforce changes reinforce and advance their rights, not remove them.

“The visa will even undermine the limited existing protections for workers under the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Workers Program.

“With youth unemployment at 10.7 per cent and underemployment at 9.3 per cent, there appears to be no requirement that local workers be offered jobs before businesses bring in vulnerable migrant workers.”

The ACTU says a fact sheet on the program circulated by the Department of Home Affairs showed there would be no safeguards put in place to prevent mass exploitation, no checks to ensure that visa holders entering Australia had the qualifications or licences needed to do the job, or checks to ensure that workers were receiving the pay and conditions that they were entitled to under the law.

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