LOCAL farmers have labelled as “disgraceful” new laws which will see growers fined for unknowingly employing illegal workers.
Under the new legislation, which was introduced to parliament last month, farmers will have to vet every employee’s work visa, even if the worker has been referred by a contractor.
If a farmer employs an illegal worker who was given the ok by a contractor, the grower will be fined for not checking the paperwork themselves.
Local citrus grower Sue Brighenti, who uses seasonal workers on her farm, said the new laws were another blow to already struggling farmers.
“It’s a disgrace,” she said.
“We’re just an easy target, a soft target – the contractors make money from us and they make money from the workers, they’re the ones that should be held responsible.”
Mrs Brighenti said one of the main reasons farmers used contractors was so they didn’t have to investigate each employee.
“It’s impossible for farmers to run the farm, run the pack houses, have all the paperwork in place to make sure the contractors do right by the workers, with this also put on us,” she said.
“We would have to check the paperwork every morning because you don’t know who is going to turn up to work from day to day.”
Fellow citrus grower Joe Staltare agreed with Mrs Brighenti, saying it should be up to immigration to do all the proper checks at the border.
“It should be done at the ports, at immigration, it shouldn’t fall back on farmers,” he said.
“Australian business people are the tax collectors for the government, they’re the money collectors and super collectors and this is just another burden on farmers – it should be done by immigration.”
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen said the new legislation would “strike a balance” between those who flout the law and those who abide by it.
“It enables strong action if initial approaches involving education and targeted warnings fail to convince deliberately uncooperative employers that they are not about the law,” he said.
“There will be no excuse for errant employers who repeatedly test the system, claiming that they were unaware of the need to check a person’s work entitlements or they did not have the means to do so.”
Mrs Brighenti said rather than targeting farmers and other employers, the government should be implementing laws to make contractors more responsible.