During a public forum in Brisbane this past Friday, government representatives attempted to address concerns over labour hire contracts that many believe are damaging the health of the Australian agricultural sector.
Hinkler’s Federal Member Keith Pitt and Senator Barry O’Sullivan appeared at the forum along with industry leaders and representatives from agricultural businesses to meet with the public and discuss the issues facing those working under labour hire contracts, farmers, other agricultural employees, and the hostels where many of these workers live while on contract. Those organising the forum stated that the concerns voiced will be taken back with them to Canberra.
Federal Member Pitt, who has experience in the industry as a cane farmer, stated that the distress communicated to his office prompted the need to meet with Senator O’Sullivan and find a way to hear the concerns of those working in the agricultural industry.
“Allegations range from the underpayment and exploitation of workers to tax evasion,” said Federal Member Pitt, “visa breaches, racial discrimination, intimidation of farmers and overcrowding in private residential properties.”
“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.”
Those who attended the forum came to a consensus concerning several important issues. There was an agreement that those who work on a seasonal basis are vital to the health and growth of the industry. There was also an understanding that all parties involved–contractors, farmers, suppliers, and others–should adhere to the laws and regulations set for the industry.
External costs and time constraints were also highlighted as an issue plaguing agricultural businesses. This in turn grows the need for labour hire contracts and the low wages they are paid. According to several forum attendees, this cycle has worsened recently.
This problem is worsened, many claimed, because contractors are known to exist in tightly-knit groups. This combined with the need for travel tied to their work makes them difficult to work with.