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Australia: Coles joins call to lift housing and pay standards for seasonal workers

Supermarket giant Coles is calling for enforceable, uniform housing standards for seasonal farm workers and rules against unfairly docking their pay to prevent overseas laborers from living in poverty and squalor and to shore up supply chains in an industry wracked by reputational damage.

In a lift for the government’s war on labor-hire firms, Coles and major unions released a report on Friday taking aim at the horticulture sector’s heavy reliance on outsourcing workers. It attributes labor-hire firms with a decline in transparency and certainty in the industry and links them to poor pay and lodging.

The report said the industry was vulnerable to inflationary and interest-rate pressures. “There is a risk that the more challenging economic conditions may have negative impacts for those with the least bargaining power and highest vulnerability – the horticulture workers,” the report says.

Compiled by consultancy Deloitte, the report acknowledges the difficulty of attracting workers to seasonal work and the reliance on migrant labor through working holidaymaker visas, which give extended working rights to those who work in agriculture, and the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, which allows workers from the Pacific and East Timor to stay in Australia for three years to fill job shortages in agriculture and meat processing but requires them to stay with the employer that sponsors them.

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