VFF Horticulture president Emma Germano has welcomed the Federal Government’s inquiry into modern slavery, labelling exploitation within horticulture ‘‘systemic’’.
Released last week, the government’s 393-page report Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia handed down a total of 49 recommendations including implementing an amnesty for illegal workers and the creation of an agriculture-specific visa.
Latest estimates suggest that more than 40million people around the world, including 4300 in Australia, are victims of some form of modern slavery, which includes human trafficking, slavery, debt bondage, forced labour and other slavery-like practices.
Ms Germano told the inquiry’s October meeting in Mildura that introducing an amnesty for illegal workers could encourage them to come forward in these situations and help to uncover exploitation.
‘‘Once illegal workers are no longer illegal, they have the full rights of the law to support them and to protect them. Whilst they are not legal workers, they are never going to come forward, no matter what hotline we put in place, what laws the Fair Work Ombudsman has or how many raids are done,’’ she said.
She also expressed strong support for introducing an agriculture-specific visa to address labour shortages, claiming it would create a ‘‘pathway to compliance’’ and ensure that money made by workers could be taken home.
‘‘You cannot expect an industry where the issue is systemic to become compliant from one minute to the next ... The reality is we don’t have enough people to pick our fruit and vegetables. So farmers won’t send those workers home, labour hire contractors will continue to exploit them, and those workers will continue to stay in the system,’’ she said.
The report comes as the Victorian Government last week introduced new laws to protect labour hire workers from being underpaid and exploited by ‘‘dodgy’’ labour hire businesses and hosts.
The laws will: introduce a universal licensing scheme to be run by an independent authority; require providers to show compliance with workplace laws, labour hire laws and minimum accommodation standards to obtain a licence; and place licensed providers on a publicly accessible register.