A GRIFFITH farmer who employs seasonal workers believes the biggest issue facing the industry is the threat posed by cheap and subsided fruit and vegetable imports.
Bart Brighenti’s comments came after the Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, this week issued a release encouraging fruit and vegetable pickers to check their workplace entitlements after receiving complaints that many were being underpaid.
Ms James said harvest workers can be vulnerable to exploitation, or inadvertent underpayments, because they’re often not aware of what they should be receiving, or where to turn for information and advice.
However, Mr Brighenti, of Sumar Produce, said in many cases seasonal workers were in fact paid above the minimum wage and were among the highest paid in the world.
“Farmers have a hard enough time getting workers,” he said.
“They have to pay extra to have workers in the field.”
This included having to employ contractors, which in turn attracted higher costs.
The bigger issue at hand, Mr Brighenti believes, is the ability for employers to hire workers because the industry is being undermined by imports.
“That’s the biggest threat to anyone working in Australia,” Mr Brighenti said.
“The work in Australia is undermined by this country not protecting its businesses and industry.
“Imports are coming in (from countries) which don’t have the same level of standard in employment.”
Mr Brighenti called on the federal government, in particular Riverina MP Michael McCormack, to do more to protect the local fruit and vegetable industry.
“The government should concentrate on the threat to our jobs, especially in this region.
“It is the largest region affected by the imports.”