The Victorian government wants to stamp out worker exploitation on farms. It’s a noble cause and one the Victorian Farmers Federation has been fighting for several years.
We’ve been involved in discussions with different governments, industry groups, and employers, but no-one seems to have a complete solution to this problem.
Now the Victorian government thinks it’s going to lead the charge on this issue by overhauling the current system as it applies in our state, including enforcing labour hire licensing agreements and a code of conduct to regulate labour hire operators.
This is the wrong approach. In their quest to be reformers, Daniel Andrews and Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins have overstepped the mark by trying to solve such a complex issue alone.
This problem isn’t exclusive to Victoria – it happens right across the country. And there absolutely needs to be a national approach.
If each state tries to solve the problem differently, there will be considerable duplication of effort, which will be a waste of time and money.
Farmers and industry have had several roundtable discussions with various governments about how to stop worker exploitation.
And there is agreement that there needs to be a process for the ethical sourcing of labour.
As such, the Victorian government’s plan to enforce a labour hire licensing system seems particularly misguided.
It avoids the real problem – that growers face constant labour shortages. Also, how will the Andrews government licensing system enforce labour laws to ensure operators are doing the right thing?
We want workers to tell the authorities if they’re being underpaid, but the most vulnerable workers are the ones who aren’t here legally. And they are not going to voluntarily give up information against their employers.
The federal government needs to help farmers by ensuring a steady flow of reliable labour is available.
Farmers are trying to do the right thing and want to be confident that the organisations supplying their labour are following the law. What we need are strict national measures in place to ensure the rights of farm workers are recognised and respected to prevent people doing the wrong thing.
Emma Germano, Victorian Farmers Federation horticulture president