Calls for local food manufacturers to guarantee no exploitation

Federal Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters, has called on local food manufacturers to guarantee the widespread exploitation of working holiday makers outlined in the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) Inquiry into the wages and conditions of people working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program is not occurring in their workplace.

“Rather than a program of ‘cultural exchange’, the backpacker or 417 Working Holiday Maker visa has become for many an experience of being under paid or not paid at all, being forced to work excessive hours, being sexually abused, or working and living in unsafe conditions,” said Ms Chesters.

The FWO report reveals widespread underpayment and exploitation of subclass 417 working holiday visa holders with 28 per cent of respondents reporting they had not been paid for their work. It also found that Backpackers from non-English speaking countries and countries with significant cultural differences to Australia are exposed to rogue employers looking to gain a competitive edge or commercial advantage through the reduction of a business’ most significant expenditure - labour costs.

“Local food manufacturers have hidden behind their labour hire agencies who engage temporary overseas workers to work in their factories. This FWO report reveals how this model of sham contracting works; how it exploits vulnerable backpackers and costs local jobs for young Australians.

“I call on local food manufacturers to guarantee this unethical behaviour is not occurring in their workplaces.

“The exploitation of backpackers on working holiday visas has been going on for years. Central Victorians have rightly been appalled by this systematic exploitation of workers on temporary work visas. The temporary work visa system must have robust safeguards in place to protect all workers and must not be used as a back door avenue to source cheap labour.

“It’s also time for the Liberal National Government to talk less and act more to crack down on worker exploitation, following the Fair Work Ombudsman report revealing widespread exploitation of backpacker labour.

“The Turnbull Government has announced yet another taskforce, the Migrant Workers Taskforce, to look at the issue of worker exploitation, but it doesn’t matter how many ‘taskforces’ the Government announces, without government legislation we will continue to see this disgraceful abuse of workers’ rights.

“We also have to start asking question of the Liberal National Government - how many examples of worker exploitation will it take to prompt the Liberal National Government into action?

“Labor has made it a bit easier for the Government as we have introduced legislation to prevent workers being exploited and all the Government has to do is to support it.

“Labor took to the election plans to ensure the temporary work visa system prioritises Australian jobs and addresses temporary worker exploitation; to licence labour hire firms; and to allow workers to pursue franchisors for wage underpayments,” said Ms Chesters.