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  • Rikki Lambert

Webster, NSW Farmers lay into AWU on farm slurs

A fruit picker in Leeton, NSW

Regional advocates' patience is wearing thin on the Australian Workers Union's campaign to secure a minimum wage in horticulture, with a regional MP and peak farming body taking umbrage at claims exploitation is endemic in farmers' business models.

Speaking on Flow on Wednesday, northwestern Victorian Nationals MP Anne Webster said the reopening of international borders on Monday was welcome and might assist the agricultural worker shortage:

"Daniel Walton from the AWU - their behaviour and their statements about the business model of farmers being to use exploited workforce is just appalling and fundamentally not true.
"I'm appalled at their takedown of Australian businesses. It's terrible."

Dr Webster said the AWU campaign was not helping farmers' international image:

""They (the AWU) have literally given Australia a bad name. Australian workers are treated incredibly well, I was just talking with people from 5 departments I had organised to meet in Mallee with peak bodies in horticulture. Their workers say they have never had it so good.
"Back home they are earning $10 a day - here, $30 an hour is an incredibly good wage for a lot of workers."

Hear the full interview with Anne Webster on the FlowNews24 podcast app:

Federal agriculture minister and Queensland Nationals MP David Littleproud told Flow throughout 2021 that the newly minted agricultural visa was struggling to attract international support due to negative perceptions cultivated by elements of the union movement.

AWU national secretary Daniel Walton told Flow in November:

"The so-called labour shortage in fruit picking has, in large part, been created by greedy employers destroying Australian working conditions. This decision is a huge step along the path to fixing this."

Responding to Mr Walton's comments, federal ALP spokesman Tony Burke said in November:

“There’s a lot of complex issues with the labour shortage but certainly if you are one of the employers who has only been offering $3...$4...$5 an hour effectively ... then it’s a bit much for them to say ‘I can’t get local workers’.

The NSW Farmers vice president Xavier Martin said on Tuesday:

“Our food does not grow, pick and process itself — we have had two years of workforce shortages impacting food supply in this country.
“We need to work together to find ways to get more farm workers, not fewer, because any action that impacts agricultural labour supply will ultimately cost us all by limiting the food we can produce.”

Mr Martin said NSW Farmers was actively advocating for more agricultural skills training for Australians, but a holistic approach was needed to ensure the sector could continue to grow and harvest our food:

“The Ag Visa is just one part of a broader strategy to resolve the workforce crisis facing the sector.
“Attraction, training and retention of Australian workers is part of the solution, but so too is attraction of international workers because the reality is that there are seasonal jobs that Australians are just not attracted to do.
“I’m hopeful we’ll find proactive solutions to these challenges, and avoid politicisation of this important issue.”"


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