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Union partnership to urge Labor to reform shameful worker abuse in fruit and vegetable sector

March 23, 2021

The Retail Supply Chain Alliance will push for the Australian Labor Party to formally commit to a range of measures aimed at restoring fairness to Australia’s fruit and vegetable sector, including a royal commission into worker abuse in horticulture, the scrapping of the 88-day visa scheme, and minimum hourly pay rates for fruit and vegetable pickers.

The proposed amendments to Labor’s platform will be presented to the ALP National Conference later this month.

AWU National Secretary and Retail Supply Chain Alliance spokesperson Daniel Walton said the need for change was clear.

“The current push to civilise working conditions on Australian farms is a classic Labor cause that our party should unequivocally champion,” Mr Walton said.

“The Australian Labor Party was founded on the principle that if you do a fair day’s work you should get a fair day’s pay. We built the nation on this principle. Farms in 2021 should not get a special carve-out.

“Our fruit and veggie sector is addicted to easily exploitable labour and we need to end it. As a result, thousands upon of thousands of jobs that could go to Australians are being performed by temporary migrants who know they are being ripped off and abused, but are forced to accept it.

“Instead of modernising in line with farms across Europe, we have created an incentive for Australian farms to take the lazy option of exploiting developing world labour standards. It’s a shoddy and unsustainable way to run a sector.

“We need a Royal Commission to truly understand the breadth of this problem and we need a clearsighted federal government to get on and fix it.

“Regional communities would thrive if the government enforced decent Australian working conditions on farms. Work that is currently itinerant and shadowy would transform into long-term, sustainable jobs a community can build around.”

The Retail Supply Chain Alliance is a partnership between the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), and Transport Workers’ Union (TWU.)

AWU/RSCA Proposed Amendments to National Labor Policy Platform:

  • Support workers in the horticultural sector being paid a guaranteed minimum rate for the work they do.
  • Establish a Royal Commission in order to uncover and permanently address ongoing systemic and structural exploitation in Australia’s horticulture sector.
  • Remove the structural dependence of Australia’s horticultural sector on temporary visa holders to better protect the rights and conditions of all workers in the sector including visa holders.
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