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Unions want visa changes

Unions want visa changes

Alliance calling for Working Holiday Visa program to be axed

The Retail Supply Chain Alliance is calling on the Federal Government to axe the Working Holiday Visa program in a bid to stamp out widespread worker exploitation, industry lawlessness and provide more jobs for young people in regional and rural Australia.

The Alliance, made up of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), says urgent action must be taken to improve the working conditions of hundreds of thousands of people employed in the horticultural industry.

As part of the Working Holiday Visa program, applicants must complete 88 days (3 months) of specified work in certain approved industries if they want to obtain a second version of the visa, which allows a further 12 month stay.

A third year has also been introduced for eligible passport holders, which requires 179 days (6 months) of specified work.

The group has put in a submission to the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee.

The report sets a series of recommendations that would overhaul the current system including:

- Abolishing the WHV visa scheme in its current form.

- Establish a national labour hire licencing scheme – one where unions would be allowed to spot visit and conduct checks on wages and other key markers.

- Introduce a consumer facing industry supply-chain accreditation scheme for the horticultural industry – with government, business, and union oversight.

- Set up a national accommodation provider licencing scheme that allows unions to exercise right of entry on accommodation.

- Stricter labour market testing for ‘labour shortages’ with a focus on local training and hiring.

- Stricter penalties for those breaking the law.

- Maintain a public register of visa workers, their visa status, their worksite, living arrangements and labour hire employer.

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Australian Workers Union National Secretary Daniel Walton says COVID is having a large impact on the availability of workers.

“Our international borders are destined to remain closed for many months and unemployment in the regions due to COVID-19 – particularly amongst young people – is through the roof. Farmers will need to attract Australians back into the horticultural workforce," says Walton.

The Liberal Nationals disagree with the move, saying it will put food security at risk.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh said the visa was a critical source of workforce for farmers.

“Coronavirus restrictions have put the handbrake on interstate travel and hamstrung the movement of the seasonal labour workforce,” Mr Walsh said.

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance is also calling for the Federal Government to do more to fill the void left by seasonal workers from overseas.

Representing major horticulture companies, they're asking for a $1200 incentive payment to encourage Australians to try farm work.

CEO Michael Rogers says something would need to be done to convince workers to relocate.

"It's a difficult time. If you're in Melbourne, it's difficult to leave Melbourne, if possible at all," says Rogers.

"In Sydney people on JobSeeker and JobKeeper often want to stay with their families and don't want to travel, so we're encouraging the government to implement a relocation payment to support people to move to rural and regional communities."

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