AUSVEG has called on the federal government to continue to work with industry to find a solution to its complex labor issue following the release of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s (VFF) Horticulture Labor Case Study that confirms the industry’s labor challenges.
The VFF case study indicated that 71 per cent of growers in the Sunraysia region believed they were likely to have undocumented workers on their property and that undocumented workers accounted for about 28 per cent of the total workforce in the region.
AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside said the findings were indicative of the tough situation that the horticulture industry finds itself in as it searches for a competent, reliable and skilled workforce, and that the government needed to work with industry to help deal with the difficult situation.
“As an industry we have identified that the high proportion of undocumented workers is an issue and are working with government, growers, unions, retailers and others in the supply chain to find a workable solution that protects workers, stamps out any mistreatment by rogue operators and levels the playing field for growers,” Mr. Whiteside said.
“We need foreign workers to harvest and package our fruit and vegetables as local workers are unwilling to work on farms. Migrant workers are a vital source of labor for our industry and we must make sure that these workers are protected from criminal activity on dodgy farms and dodgy labor hire operators.
“It becomes difficult for good growers to compete with dodgy operators when 60 per cent of a grower’s total cost of production is in its workforce. So, when a dodgy operator is paying lower than award wages, it makes it impossible for a grower doing the right thing to compete. We need government intervention to help the growers who are doing the right thing.”
“Growers would love to employ a local workforce, but there are some real struggles in accessing them, from a lack of vocational and higher education opportunities in this space, right down to a lack of local workers wanting to work in horticulture.
“It is vital that the government works with industry to review the visa system to ensure that workers are protected and that horticulture growers have access to the sufficient skilled and on-farm workforce that it needs to harvest fruit and vegetables for local and international consumers.
“AUSVEG welcomes the VFF’s labour survey and the work that has gone into it. The case study results reinforce what industry have been telling both sides of government for some time. We hope now we can get some real action and movement from the government in this space, as there are huge gains to be made in this exciting sector if we get this right.”