We will send ‘em packing Farmers’ visa war on Labor
LABOR is set to spark a massive pre-election war with farmers over a union proposal to dismantle working holiday visas which threatens to “cripple” the agriculture sector.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is pressuring Bill Shorten to review the scheme with a view to banning backpackers working for a second year and putting further restrictions on work in the first year.
Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann refused to rule out backing the proposal and told The CourierMail the number of temporary visa holders in Australia with work rights was “too high”.
The National Farmers’ Federation said the demands were “ill-considered, ill-conceived and smack of ‘dog-whistle’ politics”, and threatened to launch a widespread campaign against Labor.
“The entire sector would mobilise to voice its outrage and despair if the program was to be scrapped without adopting realistic alternatives. The response to the ‘ backpacker tax’ issue would pale in comparison,” NFF general manager Ben Rogers said.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry, the ACTU called for a review of the scheme and pushed for a cap on the number of visas handed out, a ban on job ads that advertise only for working holiday visa holders and the scrapping of a second-year visa.
It also proposed work rights attached to the visa be remodelled so that it “operates as a genuine holiday visa with some work rights attached, rather than a visa which in practice allows visa holders to work for the entire duration of their stay in Australia”.
An ACTU spokesman said the union body was concerned the visa had been “abused by big business to exploit visa holders and to deny locals access to opportunities”.
Mr Rogers said farmers relied heavily on backpackers particularly during harvests because “Australian workers simply don’t want, in sufficient volumes, to do farm work”.
“Most Aussie farms are very small, family-run businesses with low turnover and profit margins,” he said.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said backpackers were an important labour source for farmers and Australia competed with other countries to attract them.
“The ACTU doesn’t understand this because they don’t care (about) or understand agriculture and the important role backpackers play,” he said.