Local fruit growers are backing a proposed labour hire register, to stop companies exploiting foreign agricultural workers.
AUSVEG, the peak body representing vegetable and potato growers, has proposed labour hire firms seek approval from government employment and immigration departments, the Australian Taxation Office and the workplace safety body in their state before being placed on a public register.
‘‘Unfortunately, we continue to see high-profile cases of unconscionable behaviour by unscrupulous labour hire firms who exploit and abuse their contracted workers,’’AUSVEG deputy chief executive Andrew White said.
‘‘This clearly shows that there needs to be greater oversight of the labour hire industry.
‘‘As well as the human cost of this exploitation and abuse of workers, the conduct of these rogue firms is damaging Australia’s reputation among both travellers and overseas workers.’’
North Shepparton orchardist and Fruit Growers Victoria member Peter Hall said while he wasn’t aware of worker exploitation in the Goulburn Valley, anything that stopped dodgy contractors was a good thing.
‘‘The bulk of growers in the GV, all the people I know, they’re paying award wages plus a commission to the contractors — they don’t want to exploit people, they just want to get their crop off,’’ Mr Hall said.
‘‘In principal, anything that helps to weed out some of these exploitative contractors is welcome.
‘‘People should be abiding by the law and growers and farmers need to be confident that the people they’re using are abiding by the law.
‘‘We’re doing our best to make sure the contractors we’re using are legitimate; if there’s a register that helps us do that, that’s great.’’
But Mr Hall hoped a new register would not put too much red tape in the way of growers seeking seasonal workers.
‘‘It depends on whether or not it’s an onerous thing for a grower,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m reluctant to say growers can only use people on this register, you’ve got to have some flexibility with your staff.’’
A SPC spokeswoman said the company supported action to protect vulnerable workers.
She said the company worked closely with its growers to ensure their hiring practices, direct or through third party labour hire firms, complied with all legal requirements.
The proposed scheme for accreditation would be welcomed by SPC.
AUSVEG’s proposal includes regular inspection or auditing by the government to prove a company’s continuing compliance with the standards required to be an accredited firm.
Farmers and workers would be encouraged to use the register to ensure labour hire firms who acted in compliance with Australian law were rewarded for their behaviour.