The federal government has announced a new seasonal agriculture worker visa that will be extended to all 10 ASEAN countries.
Agriculture minister David Littleproud on Wednesday said the new visa would mirror the existing Seasonal Worker Programme, and would be in place before the end of the year.
“Pacific worker programs have and will continue to play a critical role in our agriculture sector and the new visa arrangement will build on the success of these arrangements,” he said in a statement.
“Like the Seasonal Worker Programme, the new visa arrangement will have protections to ensure workers are protected, not subject to exploitation and that the visa is not misused. Pay and conditions, health, and work and safety will also be in line with similar requirements and protections under the Seasonal Worker Programme.”
Littleproud said the Nationals had called for the scheme to be developed following the government’s announcement of an Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which included an agriculture visa. Under the deal, British backpackers would no longer be required to work on Australian farms for 88 days.
“As part of the give and take of negotiations with the UK over the FTA, UK backpackers will no longer be required to fulfil a period of time working in the agriculture sector,” Littleproud said.
“As a result, the Nationals demanded and secured this new agriculture visa to fill the gap that would create and more.”
But the Australian Workers’ Union have argued the new visa would ‘exacerbate the already rampant abuse and exploitation’ occurring on Australian farms.
“Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson have decided it’s wrong for Brits to be exposed to exploitation and abuse on Australian farms, but apparently it’s okay for Southeast Asians,” AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said.
“Johnson rightly told Morrison he needed to scrap the 88-day requirement for Brits to work on Australian farms, because they were being routinely exploited and abused. They’re not alone — citizens from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, and many others have raised similar concerns. But now David Littleproud is telling Southeast Asians to come on down for the same treatment. It’s shameless, stupid, and immoral.”
Walton said the new visa would also have economic repercussions.
“At a time when we desperately need to be putting upward pressure on Australian wages, the government decides to introduce a scheme that allows one sector to aggressively drive down the pay that should be circulating in regional economies,” he said.
“Much of the labour shortfall on farms could be made up quickly by providing Australian-standard wages and protections. Where there are still gaps, programs like the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program are much better than simply opening the gates to vulnerable Southeast Asian workers without adequate rights and protections.”