Forum fleshes out Queensland’s seedy underbelly

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Stakeholders and elected representatives today met in Brisbane to discuss contract labour hire issues confronting the Queensland agriculture sector.

Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt and Senator Barry O’Sullivan brought peak industry bodies and businesses together to hear firsthand the difficulties workers, hostels, farmers and legitimate labour hire contractors confront.

Mr Pitt and Senator O’Sullivan will take stakeholders’ concerns to the relevant Federal Ministers.

Mr Pitt, a former canefarmer and training provider, said it was the increasing number of very serious complaints made to his office that prompted he and Senator O’Sullivan to organise the forum.

“Allegations range from the underpayment and exploitation of workers to tax evasion, visa breaches, racial discrimination, intimidation of farmers and overcrowding in private residential properties,” Mr Pitt said.

“One of the problems people face in formally reporting their complaint is the sheer number of agencies involved across all three levels of Government. In many cases they are just too scared to give their name to the authorities.  

“Today’s forum has helped us flesh out some of the issues. Now, we will be asking our Ministerial colleagues to help us cut this blemish out before it grows and spoils what is by-and-large a very reputable industry.

“We want to ensure our seasonal workers are protected; that businesses have a level playing field and Australia remains a destination of choice for overseas students and working holiday makers.”

Senator O’Sullivan, a former police detective, said maintaining strong communication channels between industry and enforcement agencies was essential to investigating and prosecuting those conducting illegal activities.    

“Whether it is concerns over labour, profitability or trade, the most practical and relevant solutions are those developed by industry,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“The participation of so many peak bodies at this meeting illustrates industry’s willingness and desire to confront these employment issues.

“Growers must remain vigilant in their willingness to report illegal contracting arrangements.

“Our international reputation is dependent on Australia’s ability to develop practical and ethical labour sourcing strategies.”          

Senator O’Sullivan and Mr Pitt thanked all the participants for their valuable input, including John Brent (Scenic Rim Mayor and Ausveg board member) who chaired the forum.

Concerned stakeholders can add their voice to the debate by emailing Keith.Pitt.MP@aph.gov.au and Senator.O’Sullivan@aph.gov.au     

Media contacts:

Keith Pitt MP: Larine Statham 0427 653 814

Senator Barry O’Sullivan: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666

 

 

Contract labour hire practices in the Queensland agricultural sector

Stakeholder Forum hosted by Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt and Senator Barry O’Sullivan

STATEMENT OF INTENT

Stakeholders in attendance agree that:

a) Seasonal (foreign/itinerant) workers are vitally important to the agricultural sector, regional Queensland communities and the Australian economy

b) the majority of contractors, hostels, growers/farmers and workers act lawfully. The industry ultimately has responsibility for ensuring the relevant laws are upheld. 

c) external cost and time pressures have increased the industry’s utilisation of low-cost labour hire contractors

d) anecdotal evidence suggests the problem has escalated significantly in recent years

e) offending contractors are highly organised and, due to the transient nature of the workforce, are masters at avoiding detection    

f) the issue has the potential to damage Australia’s reputation among international students and working holiday makers  

Stakeholders in attendance acknowledge:

a) the advocacy and assistance currently being provided to growers by peak industry bodies

b) the efforts of previous Governments to address some of the issues

c) that the issues are extremely complex and broad in nature, and multi-jurisdictional  

Stakeholders in attendance request that:

a) Mr Pitt and Senator O’Sullivan present stakeholders’ concerns to the relevant Ministers

b) Mr Pitt and Senator O’Sullivan seek formal briefings from the relevant Ministers about what action is currently being undertaken by Commonwealth agencies

c) Mr Pitt and Senator O’Sullivan obtain advice from the relevant Ministers about the avenues and resources available to properly address this endemic problem

[ENDS]  Brisbane, 27 June 2014