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Parliamentary Questions

Question Without Notice No. 737 asked in the Legislative Council on 6 August 2019 by Hon Charles Smith

Parliament: 40 Session: 1

Answered on

SEASONAL WORKER PROGRAMME

737. Hon CHARLES SMITH to the Minister for Regional Development:

I refer to the recent announcement that workers from East Timor are being imported to work in the fruit picking industry in WA. I also refer to the 2017 National Temporary Migrant Work Survey that found large-scale wage theft was prevalent in fruit picking and farm work.

(1) Does the government concede—bearing in mind the report I have mentioned—that importing these foreign workers is completely at odds with the government's inquiry into wage theft?

(2) What safeguards is the government putting in place to protect these workers from wage theft?

(3) Does the government concede that the best way to actually deal with so-called labour shortages is to lift wages and encourage workers to shift to the industry, which is failing to attract workers, rather than to import cheap foreign labour?

Hon ALANNAH MacTIERNAN replied:

I thank the member for the question.

(1)–(2) There are legitimate concerns about the exploitation of foreign workers in some farm sectors. However, the project I announced will facilitate employment through the commonwealth's Seasonal Worker Programme. There are stringent requirements for the protection of employees on all approved employers under this program.

Before becoming an approved employer under the Seasonal Worker Programme, the business must meet, amongst others things, the following criteria: be committed to employing Australian job seekers first; have good workplace relations and immigration practices; and have an understanding of an approved employer's obligations under the Seasonal Worker Programme. To become an approved employer, the business must demonstrate that it has a range of policies and procedures in place for worker safety, employment obligations and pastoral care.

(3) No. Employees under the Seasonal Worker Programme are not imported cheap foreign labour. SWP employees are paid at award rates or at the minimum wage. Agricultural employers seek to access the Seasonal Worker Programme to ensure that they have sufficient and reliable labour. It is an opportunity to provide developing nations in our region with a chance to contribute both to our economy and theirs and help create an arc of stability.