Duopoly should act on 'slave' claims

15 May, 2015 02:00 AM
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The time for enquiries, reports and reviews is over. The problem is well-documented

SUPERMARKET giants can help to end the exploitation of seasonal and foreign workers in the horticulture sector, says LNP MP Keith Pitt.

The Queensland politician spoke about dodgy labour hire contractors operating in Australia in parliament this week, following a recent exposé on the issue he’s been pursuing vigorously by ABC’s Four Corners.

He said ending exploitation in the sector starts with the supermarket giants “who are squeezing our growers for every last cent”.

“The supermarkets may be able to dodge responsibility and liability by pleading ignorant, but under the current law there is no such protection for farmers,” he said.

“Even those using contract labour hire companies are equally culpable.”

Mr Pitt said the majority of farmers do the right thing but a few “bad seeds” are giving the horticulture sector a bad reputation.

“Farmers are the backbone of this country,” he said.

“Appallingly, farmers’ share of the selling price has declined from almost 90 per cent in the early 1900s to less than 10pc today.

“The time for enquiries, reports and reviews is over. The problem is well-documented.

“We need better co-ordination and enforcement of existing laws."

Mr Pitt said in this week’s federal budget, the government showed it had saved about $550 million over five years from closing unnecessary detention centres. He wants a small portion of that money to be diverted to a multi-agency taskforce and an effective one-stop-shop hotline for foreign workers and farmers.

“The Treasurer also announced that from July 1, 2016 working holiday makers will pay tax from their first dollar earned,” he said.

“They will no longer enjoy a tax-free threshold. Treasury estimates this will raise $540m over four years.

“I share the Treasurer’s view that anyone earning money in Australia should pay tax in Australia.

“Can you imagine how much revenue could be raised if we ensured our foreign workers were being paid properly?

“At the moment they operate in a black economy, where many workers get paid in cash, or not at all.”

Aussie Farmers Direct has already changed its purchasing patterns, based on allegations raised in the ABC program, sourcing an alternative supplier of chicken.

'We contacted (Baiada) for a response to the allegations as soon as they came to our attention," the retailer said in a statement to customers.

"At this stage the response from Baiada does not address the key allegations to our satisfaction.

"Aussie Farmers Direct has therefore decided to stop buying Lilydale Free Range chicken immediately and to remove it from our offer and customers' orders by this weekend.

"We understand that none of the supermarket grocery chains are taking such action and will continue to sell chicken products supplied by Baiada. However, we believe our customers expect better and that is why we are taking this course of action."

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FarmOnline
Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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