By LOUISE PAYNE*

THE Australian Workers’ Union’s (AWU) National and New South Wales Secretary, Daniel Walton, stated on Twitter recently that “The horticulture industry is essentially lawless, totally broken and run by cowboys”.

Quite the statement!

An interesting position from which to start a relationship with Australia’s farmers and growers and from which to suggest that only they, the newly formed Retail Supply Chain Alliance, have the leadership; capacity; knowledge and reach to solve the problems that are allegedly so deeply ingrained in our Horticulture and Agriculture sector.

Rest assured their influence and reach will be extensive, right through the whole Australian food supply chain in fact.

The Retail Supply Chain Alliance, is a coalition of the Transport Workers’ Union, the AWU and the Shop Distributive an Allied Employees Union (SWP).

They are the now self-appointed coalition of the willing it would seem.

This alliance formed in 2019 is “An attempt to advance the cause for workers’ rights and reduce exploitation across the horticulture supply chain in Australia” – just so long as those workers are Union members of course.

The most significant recommendations of their recent submission to the National Agricultural Labour Advisory Committee are that government discontinue the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program in its current form and deepen the scope of SWP to other pacific partner countries so that it can service the reduction in WHM visa holders. This should include return working rights and pathways to citizenship.

The submission makes for entertaining reading with a list of 21 lofty recommendations. The report begins from the premise that “the reality is that being employed in horticulture in Australia – whether it be with a grower or labour hire contractor, will likely mean you are being exploited”.

They propose the creation of “a supply-chain accreditation scheme – so that from the farm to the point of sale, dishonest employers are punished by their exclusion from the industry”. Through extensive auditing and intrusive monitoring, the NALAC will be the new farming police that will remodel Australia’s food production.

The report includes proposals for the establishment of a national accommodation provider licensing scheme with minimum provisions and the removal of any prohibitions on allowing unions to exercise right of entry on accommodation; rules to allow unions enhanced right of entry provisions to check time and wages record for all workers on short notice to enforce compliance; suggestions to formalise the induction process with unions, employers and civil society (whatever that is!) report backs and departmental oversight.

And of course, demands that the Federal Government provide grants to unions that are capable and willing to ‘independently’ audit horticulture employers on their compliance with Australian workplace laws.

The solution they say, “must be multi-facetted and ensure that the supply of labour is at first local, literate, and legal”.

In their world as a result of COVID-19 there will be a ready workforce of willing job seekers keen to relocate, take up temporary and seasonal positions and happily accept working on a piece rate that reflects their exertion of energy and drive. The rest of the vacancies will be filled by a necessarily, ‘highly regulated and targeted scheme’.

There is only one reason these unions have recently become interested in having a presence in our sector.

They have ‘waged and conditioned’ many other industries out of existence and as a result of their lack of relevance and opportunism in the wake of the COVID crisis are seeking to rekindle their stronghold over Australia’s workforces and crucial supply chains.

They are so keen on the Pacific Islander programs because they know that as soon as those workers get off the plane in Australia, they will be taken to a venue to be signed as Union members and undertake two days of indoctrination before the ever get to a farm.

There is no question that some sectors of our industry need to get their house in order and they’d better do it soon otherwise the case for union dominance, further changes to our award and the removal of piece work from the Award will be likely. It is up to us to get this sorted.

Our sector is critical to this nation. Don’t let it be at the mercy of these organisations. They don’t make anything; they don’t grow anything and they don’t employ anyone – they profit by destabilising and manipulating the work and endeavours of those who contribute to this nation’s wealth and prosperity.

There are approximately 85,483 agricultural businesses in Australia, are we going to hand over control of our workplaces to this coalition?

* Louise Payne is co-owner of the Sunraysia-based Payne’s Farm Contracting