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Seasonal workers and building membership focus for Australian Workers Union in Riverina

January 29, 2021

AWU NSW vice president Ron Cowdrey says the impacts of COVID in the workplace are going to be one the biggest challenges for workers and businesses in the Riverina in 2021.

The challenges of a COVID economy and changes in the modern workplace are the focus for the Australian Workers Union in the Riverina this year.

“Whether you agree with hard borders or not, they are going to be a part of working life in our region going forward,” AWU NSW vice president Ron Cowdrey said.

“How we react to COVID and the restrictions of 2020 is going to be the biggest issue this year.

“Our region is heavily reliant on seasonal workers, specifically the backpackers and pacific islander workers.

It’s going to be a careful balancing act for the government to work out what type of restrictions and concessions are going to be needed in these areas.

Mr Cowdrey says the AWU would like to see an overhaul of the visa system and a revisiting of the seasonal worker program by government.

Additionally, there is scope to look at local labour to help meet the demand for workers in the regions said Mr Cowdrey, but not without industry addressing some key issues.

“I see a huge opportunity for businesses to re-work their models to look more at local labour,” he said.

“There is this idea out there that ‘Aussies’ don’t want to work in the picking industry. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Aussies do want to work, but they will demand the right wages.”

With union membership across Australia steadily decreasing since the nineties, growing his local membership will be a priority in 2021 for Mr Cowdrey who says unions are needed now more than ever.

“We are more relevant today than what we used to be because the dynamic of the workplace is changing so rapidly. A lot of people still don’t understand their rights in the workplace,” he said.

Information technology, constantly changing industrial relations law and the casualisation of the work place are all contributing said Mr Cowdrey, particularly to the younger generation shunning union membership.

“We do have a lot of younger members joining but we’d like more because they are the next generation in the work force. They don’t really understand what the previous generations have gone through to give them what they have now,” he said.

This article was originally posted by Area News Riverina

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