Australia's peak post-farmgate meat body has slammed Labor's election pledge to give workers from overseas an $11,000-a-year pay rise.
Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said if he won the federal election he would mandate an immediate 21pc increase to minimum wages paid to foreign workers to stop what he says is the use of cheap overseas labour to undercut locals and keep wages flat.
The pay rise would apply to workers on a 457-style visas and be indexed annually.
There are about 1.6 million overseas workers in Australia at any one time on such visas.
"When businesses use overseas workers as a cheap replacement for local workers it it contributes to wage stagnation,'' Mr Shorten said.
"There are more than one million underemployed Australians wanting more work and youth unemployment is at 11.7pc."
But Patrick Hutchinson, CEO of the Australian Meat Industry Council said the move would punish Australia's struggling meat processing sector through a higher wages bill while doing nothing to overcome the sector's chronic labour shortages.
He said the major political parties would better serve the bush by curbing the widespread use of illicit drugs and alcohol which was providing a major barrier to securing long-term employment.
"The Australian red meat industry is one of the largest employers in regional Australia and it has been struggling for some time to find local Australian workers to fill vacant positions, particularly among young workers and the long-term unemployed," Mr Hutchinson said.
"Right now there are more than 3780 vacant job positions across Australian meat processing plants.
"These businesses would prefer to fill them with local workers. Yet, despite considerable advertising, pre-training and structured training programs with RTOs, this hasn't been possible," he said.
"Indeed, in the past year 73 processing plants advertised for almost 6500 new workers which were filled by about 4600 local Australian workers.
"However, this has failed to fill or even maintain job vacancies at lower levels, particularly as Australian local workers stay an average between one week and six months in the job.
"Currently, out of necessity, overseas employees account on average for three per cent of red meat processors full-time skilled employees and 17pc of casual workers.
"Despite this, more than 60pc of processing plants are running below capacity and Mr Shorten's announcement will only negatively impact capacity further, particularly as a pay increase to employees under the skilled migration scheme will add tens of millions of dollars to the red meat industry's wage bill," Mr Hutchinson said.
"Clearly, this is too much for an industry to bear that is suffering the burden of continuing drought conditions, unreasonably high electricity prices and excessive government red tape costs.
"Overseas skilled employees under the current targeted scheme have gone some way towards filling vacancies and enabling processing plants to lift production and double shifts which in turn has helped to create more job opportunities for Australians within the red meat industry and other related regional industries.
"Many of the skilled employees transition to become permanent residents and remain in regional communities.
"As the main employers in many regional and rural areas, AMIC members have become increasingly concerned about the adverse impact illicit drugs and alcohol are having on the local workforce, communities and families.
"Worryingly, AMIC's members report that, on average, 20pc of jobs applicants fail to turn up to mandatory drug testing and a significant number fail the tests.
"As a result, AMIC calls on both sides of the government to set up a bipartisan taskforce to join with large regional employers and care organisations to deal with the impact of illicit drug and alcohol problems in regional Australia and determine pathways for positive employment outcomes.
"The key to Australia's regional growth is to attract workers and have them stay permanently in the bush so they can join and rebuild declining communities and add to economic growth of these regions, reducing the widening divide between over-populated cities and under-populated regional Australia."
The story Meat processors slam Bill Shorten's wage rise to foreign workers first appeared on Farm Online.