PMA Australia-NZ holds first industry forum to address farm labor abuse
The Product Marketing Association of Australia and New Zealand (PMA A-NZ) recently held a Labor Hire Forum in Canberra to look at improving migrant labor hire systems, following a recent exposé on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) ‘Four Corners’ program.
The report revealed instances of slave-like conditions for migrant workers on farms, which led to Australian horticultural sector groups calling on authorities to crack down on "rogue" labor hire firms.
The forum that was held on August 11 in association with National Farmers' Federation (NFF) also addressed the longer-term challenge of finding a robust and sustainable labor supply for the expanding industry.
Fresh produce production is highly seasonal and very spread-out geographically, and therefore both production and harvest require peaks of short-term labour to get the job done, according to a release from PMA A-NZ.
This labor mostly comes from an itinerant population of workers - back-packers, short-term visa holders and even 'grey nomads'.
The advantage of this is the "tap" can usually be turned on and off as required by the grower. The disadvantage is these workers are generally unskilled and are open to abuse by unscrupulous labour hire firms who play the vital role of supplying this labour, the release added.
Some 100 delegates attended the Forum, including growers, retailers, foodservice companies, industry organisations, politicians, unions, labour hire firms, topic experts and service providers.
"This was a first for the industry, with no stakeholder missing and vigorous discussion on what needs to be done (and what can be done) to improve the situation," PMA A-NZ CEO Michael Worthington said.
"As an exercise in flushing out all the competing issues and gaining acceptance that this is a whole-of-industry issue, it was a very successful Forum.”
NFF general manager of workplace relations and legal affairs Sarah McKinnon said the Forum represented the beginning of a national conversation on workforce sustainability in the fresh food industry.
"For some time now, we have been working toward a best practice scheme for agricultural employment and labour contracting, to drive the social license of Australian farmers and encourage more people into agricultural employment," McKinnon said.
"Today a diverse range of stakeholders and industry leaders came together to listen to each other and engage in a free exchange of ideas."
PMA A-NZ and NFF will now attempt to bring together the various threads from the Forum into some cohesive actions for the industry over the coming months.
"As an industry we need to be proactive in important areas such as this and work with governments to apply the necessary policy settings," Worthington added.
"There was an enormous level of goodwill in the room today. We are grateful to all of those who came to the Forum and shared their views, and we look forward to an ongoing conversation and some meaningful outcomes in the long term interests of Australian agriculture."
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