A coalition of unions representing workers along Australia’s food supply chain have called on the government to scrap the national backpacker fruit-picking program and improve working conditions to attract unemployed Australians.
The unions argue too many backpackers are underpaid under the Working Holiday Maker visa program, which allows travellers to extend their stay in Australia if they spend some time working certain jobs in regional areas, and with regional unemployment forecast to hit more than 9 per cent, the unions say the jobs should go to locals.
About 115,000 backpackers were on the Working Holiday Maker visa program last year, comprising up to 80 per cent of the workforce for some harvests, according to the Fresh Produce Alliance. A large-scale 2018 report by the Fair Work Ombudsman found more than half the businesses audited were not complying with workplace laws and about 30 per cent had underpaid their workers.
With borders closed, the Retail Supply Chain Alliance – made up of the Australian Workers Union, Transport Workers Union and retail union SDA – sees an opportunity for a reset.