Thursday, January 25, 2024
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
The extent to which temporary workers from the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste are supporting essential agricultural and food processing industries has been highlighted by new analysis from the Australia Institute, adding weight to calls for much needed improvements to working conditions for temporary visa holders participating in the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.
The analysis finds that PALM workers are equivalent to 10 per cent of the agricultural workforce usually resident in Australia, and equivalent to nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of Australia’s meat processing workforce usually resident in Australia.
Exploitation and poor working conditions of many temporary workers has been revealed in the report which recommends that working conditions meet those afforded to domestic workers.
The conditions imposed on PALM workers place them at the mercy of employers in a way that would be illegal for domestic workers.
Employers are allowed to make deductions from their wages, and workers are unable to leave their employers without going through a rigorous bureaucratic process.
If they chose to leave an abusive employer without approval, they face the threat of having their visa cancelled.
“The numbers show that workers from the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste are keen to take up the opportunity to work in Australia, but being tied down to a specific employer creates problems,” said Dr Alexia Adhikari, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Australia Institute.
“It leaves workers enormously vulnerable to abuse and coercion and seriously reduces their ability to leave exploitative situations.
“While recent reforms to the program are certainly welcome, Australia can do more to ensure the equitable treatment of PALM Scheme visa holders.
“Overseas workers should be able to participate in temporary migration programs and return home with dignity as well as savings.”
Australia Institute research shows that there is strong support amongst the Australian public to provide better conditions for PALM visa workers with polling stating that over two-thirds of Australians believe PALM visa holders should have access to Medicare while working in Australia.
“Australia wants the Pacific region to think of us as a family and the Australian government wants to lean on our neighbourly relationship to establish partnerships for development, security and COP31 (climate summit),” said Dr Adhikari.
“We are asking for the co-operation and trust of Pacific Island nations, but our policies leave their citizens vulnerable to exploitation as they pick the fruit and vegetables that end up on Australian tables.”
Industries within which PALM visa holders are strongly represented make massive profits for the Australian economy.
Last year, the combined earnings from agricultural production ($90 billion) and agricultural export ($75 billion) were worth in excess of $160 billion.
Photo source: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry