Protecting migrant workers focus of new report

The Federal Government has released a report listing 22 recommendations to better protect migrant workers, including those working in horticulture picking fruit.

“The report contains recommendations that could have significant implications for the horticulture industry,” said Mr Rob Hayes, State Manager – Harvest Trail (Victoria), MADEC.

After almost two and a half years of work, the Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce was released on the 7th March 2019.

The Taskforce was set up in October 2016 to protect vulnerable workers following reports of systemic underpayment of migrant workers in 7-Eleven convenience stores and the horticulture industry.

“The horticultural industry employs lots of people from overseas including migrant workers to help them pick or pack fresh produce or do other jobs across the industry. These workers play an important role in horticulture, so it is imperative they are paid according to their legal rights,” said Mr Hayes.

In their overview of the report, Taskforce Chair, Professor Allan Fels, and Deputy Chair, Professor David Cousins said “Wage underpayment may be inadvertent, but the outcome is no different as to when it is deliberate. The terms wage exploitation and wage theft are more emotive, but also apt descriptions of the problem, which in essence involves employers not complying with the minimum legal entitlements of their employees”.

The Government has accepted in principle all 22 recommendations in the report including some that are particularly relevant to horticulture including the establishment of a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme, criminal sanctions and more resources to support enforcement activities.

Professors Fels and Cousins added, “Wage exploitation of temporary migrants offends our national values of fairness. It harms not only the employees involved, but also the businesses which do the right thing.”

MADEC also supports the recommendations of the report and welcomes reform to the industry.

“Workers in horticulture can also take steps to protect themselves now,” said Mr Hayes.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman website has resources to help workers learn about their rights and guides to help them prepare for work in the industry and communicate effectively with employers.”

MADEC also manages the Harvest Trail which helps connect workers with seasonal job vacancies.

More information

Rob Hayes, State Manager – National Harvest Labour Information Service (Victoria), MADEC