Australia’s federal government is launching a new visa designed to increase the number of foreigners working on Australian farms. In making partnership agreements for the visa, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has said the government will “be targeting countries that we already have long-standing bilateral agreements with – the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea.” Other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ), including Indonesia, are also likely to be on the shortlist.
The Australian Agriculture visa seeks to provide a long-term solution to labor shortages reported by the farming sector. The new agriculture visa will allow migrant farm laborers to work in Australia for three years, with a requirement to return to their home country for three months of every year. Unlike the Working Holiday Maker visa, if migrant workers agree to work in approved industries beyond the three years, they can also apply for permanent residency.
However, advocate groups warn Australia’s new agriculture visa could exacerbate exploitation on Australian farms, such as underpayment, exorbitant accommodation charges and unscrupulous hiring companies. The Australian Workers Union warns that the visa will “exacerbate the already rampant abuse and exploitation” in the sector.
Farmers groups argue their image has been tainted by the actions of a small number of unscrupulous growers, but, according to asiaone.com¸ research suggests that exploitation is widespread. A 2020 report compiled by unions and the Migrant Workers Centre found that 80 per cent of surveyed piece-rate workers had been underpaid. A 2018 inquiry by Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman found that half of the investigated businesses had breached workplace laws, including misuse of piece rates, underpayments of the hourly rate and non-payment for time worked.