Farmers' association slams illegal labour practices

NSW Farmers is urging Coffs Coast farmers to source workers only from reputable labour hire contractors.
NSW Farmers is urging Coffs Coast farmers to source workers only from reputable labour hire contractors. Trevor Veale

NEW South Wales Farmers said it's alarmed by local reports of exploitative labour hire syndicates.

The association spoke out after The Advocate's recent report on joint Border Force and Australian Federal Police raids on a Woolgoolga labour hire syndicate said to employ illegal foreign workers.

The raids resulted in 34 Malaysian citizens, allegedly working unlawfully as blueberry pickers, being detained, ready for deportation.

Korora farmer and NSW Farmers board member Paul Shoker said reports of illegal labour hire practices were "horrifying".

"Our sector has worked hard in recent times to stamp out illegal and improper practices," he said.

"The majority of growers want to do the right thing for their workers."

Mr Shoker said foreign workers were often unaware of their rights.

"Foreign workers who are working in Australia without the appropriate visa are particularly susceptible to being exploited," he said.

"Many of these workers can have limited English skills and understanding of the regulations in place."

He said it's important not all employers - or workers - were painted with the same brush.

"Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of foreign workers visiting our shores have a positive experience.

"Backpackers and workers on the Seasonal Worker Program help ensure crops are harvested on time when there is insufficient available workers locally.

"This in turn helps keep fresh produce affordable to most households."

NSW Farmers urged all farmers to use only reputable labour hire contractors that carry out appropriate background employment checks and pay in accordance to relevant awards.

The Advocate last week reported workers at a Coffs Harbour blueberry farm were underpaid a total of $14,720 and made to work 36 days' straight by a separate, Melbourne-based labour hire contractor.

Meanwhile, a Government official investigating the Woolgoolga syndicate told The Advocate foreign workers were often financially exploited - beyond being underpaid - by being made to pay exorbitant rent to live in houses with 20 or more other workers.

Topics:  blueberry farming border force coffs harbour nsw farmers woolgoolga

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