Apple and Pear Australia Ltd (APAL) has categorically condemned the mistreatment of agricultural workers and denounced unscrupulous operators who damage the ‘clean, green’ reputation of Australian industry as a whole.
Responding to the Harvest Trail Inquiry final report released by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), APAL has expressed serious concern at the level of non-compliance detailed and welcomed recommendations for an industry-wide approach towards compliance.
“Protecting the rights of workers is essential to the future profitability and sustainability of Australian agriculture,” said APAL CEO, Phil Turnbull.
Seasonal workers play a pivotal role in the Australian horticultural industry, especially during peak periods when many growers rely on the assistance of labour hire contractors to source and administer their workforce needs. With recent labour figures indicating full employment in Victoria and NSW, labour shortfalls could threaten growers’ ability to pick and pack fruit.
The introduction of heavy penalties to ensure growers pay and treat workers fairly was also welcomed by APAL: “Increasing scrutiny, legal requirements, fines and market demands all act as checks to incentivise the fair payment and treatment of workers, helping to create a level playing field for those growers doing the right thing,” Phil said.
Through active membership of the NFF Horticulture Council, APAL has been vocal about the need to address Australia’s growing labour challenge head-on: “Punishing infringers is absolutely necessary but doesn’t go far enough,” Phil cautioned. “We need to tackle this issue on two fronts: i) Penalties for offenders and ii) Fixing the core issue of the labour challenge.”
The FWO commended Fruit Growers Victoria (FGV) for their work to ensure the fairness of their annual piece rate guide. Evidence of apple and pear growers sourcing labour directly where concerns existed about fair payment of wages through third parties was also cited by FWO as an example of good practice.
“It’s great to see FGV taking a lead but as an industry there is more to be done, particularly around record keeping, correct use of piece rates and accreditation of labour hire businesses,”
Reiterating support for Growcom’s Fair Farms Initiative, APAL confirmed the need for greater education to stamp out unconscionable practices and educate growers – and workers – of their rights and obligations.
“Growers cannot outsource their legal responsibility and the buck stops with the grower to protect workers and ensure they are paid and treated fairly.”
“That said, we also consider a concerted, cross-sector effort involving government and growers is required to address the dire labour challenges facing the industry. Where there is a shortage of local workers, there is a need for a more flexible visa to attract productive workers to Australia.”
“At the moment there is not a tailored visa to deal with the unique challenges faced by the horticulture industry. Specifically, we need a visa that attracts workers from a wider group of countries. It needs to be portable, administratively simple and low cost so to allow small growers to participate, while also ensuring the proper safeguards to protect workers from any exploitation.”
APAL is the national industry body for Australian apple and pear growers and is committed to growing a profitable and sustainable industry for future generations of growers.
MEDIA CONTACT: Lisa Malone, Head of Communications and Media
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