Labor to spark war over ‘dangerous’ visa plan
LABOR is set to spark a massive pre-election war with farmers over a "dangerous" union proposal to dismantle working holiday visas which threatens to "cripple" the agriculture sector.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is using its influence to pressure Bill Shorten to review the scheme with a view to ban backpackers working for a second year and put further restrictions on work in the first year.
Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann refused to rule out backing the proposal and told The Daily Telegraph the number of temporary visa holders in Australia with work rights was "too high".
The National Farmers' Federation labelled the demands "ill-considered, ill-conceived and smack of 'dog-whistle' politics" and warned politicians against acting on it.
"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 pushing for the government to cap the number of visas handed out, ban job ads that advertise only for working holiday visa holders and abandon the second year of the program.
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 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 rely heavily on backpackers particularly during harvest because "Australian workers simply don't want, in sufficient volumes, to do farm work".
He said the ACTU seemed to think this "crippling issue" could be solved by increasing wages which was "naive" and "dangerous".
"Most Aussie farms are very small, family run businesses with low turnover and profit margins," he said.
Mr Rogers said abolishing the second year would axe a key incentive for backpackers to head to regional areas.
Kathleen Haven Orchard manager Brett Guthrey said the business relied on about 12 backpackers each harvest in addition to about four local workers.
He said the business would prefer to hire more Aussies but even an employee last year hired through seasonal workers incentive trial where people could work in horticultural without it affecting their welfare payments regularly didn't show up.
"As a business we can't afford to have unreliable workers. The fruit doesn't wait to be picked," he said.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said backpackers were an important labour source to farmers and that Australia competes with other countries with to attract them.
"The ACTU doesn't understand this because they don't care or understand agriculture and the important role backpackers play," he said.
Backpacker Valentine Delacroix, 24, confirmed farmers fears backpackers would shun the regions if it wasn't a requirement for a second year.
The Belgian national said she planed to do fruit picking after her summer job working as a surf instructor at Port Macquarie. "If I wasn't going for the second year I wouldn't bother," she said.