Modern slavery exists in Australia’s agriculture

Contributed by Ugly

Working on the farm can be is tough. I know. I’ve done it. For the family owned concern, it is often a constant struggle to stay above water. It can be even worse for those working as wage earners. Wages are notoriously low in this industry.

The big problem is the big agribusiness corporations. They control the market and make it tough for the small operator. Then there are the two retail monopolies that control most of the distribution. The small player has not real say.

The result is not only low wagers, but insufficient earnings for the small farmer who is often eventually forced to walk away.

A survey by the National Union of Workers has shown that many agricultural workers are severely under paid, have wages withheld, are made to work excessive overtime.

For migrants, edspecially those on work visas, it is much worse. Employers hold their identity documents to keep them captive, charge excessively for transport and boarding, and some even sexually violate those working for them.

A group of academics and experts in human, labour rights, modern slavery and supply chains have sent an open letter to Coles and Woolworths, calling on them to act appropriately to address the extreme level of exploitation on the land.

The law is supposed to require these supermarket chains to take responsibility labour practices practiced at the source of their supplies. But they are not doing so and the law is not being enforced. This is why what amounts to a form of slavery continues to go on.

A Four Corners program in 2015 exposed how crime syndicates used labour hire companies to recruit migrants and paid then as little as $3.95 an hour for 22-hour shifts. Nothing has changed.

For a start, applying proper labour practices should be made mandatory for doing business with Coles and Woolworths.

Their major customers are the agribusiness corporations and they hire of most of the labour. This is where most of the attention must be put.

It is also important to ensure that farmers are paid a fair price for their produce and provide ongoing instead of short-term contracts. This would take off some of the pressure pushing down wages and working conditions.

Beccause the supermarkets have not done a thing to make improvements, greater public awareness of what s going on is necessary. If they continue to fail to act ethically, people can turn around and shop somewhere else.

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