Liberal Nationals slam union war against agriculture seasonal workforce

Union politics is jeopardising food security at a time of crisis.

The horticulture sector fears a union call to end the Working Holiday Maker Visa will push up the price of fruit and vegetables at a time when our communities need a reliable, affordable supply of fresh food.

Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh said the visa was a critical source of workforce for farmers.

“Coronavirus restrictions have put the handbrake on interstate travel and hamstrung the movement of the seasonal labour workforce,” Mr Walsh said.

“Farmers rely on both local and migrant workers to harvest food and fibre that ends up on our supermarkets shelves – this program is integral for them getting the workforce to continue that work.

“Unions are basing this call on unsubstantiated and malicious allegations of mistreatment of workers. If the union was aware of genuine instances of mistreatment of workers they should report that through the appropriate channels – not use it as a political football.”

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) estimates removing backpackers from the fresh food sector will cost the national economy $13 billion, threaten 127,000 jobs and risk pushing up the cost of fruit and vegetables by 60 per cent.

“Farmers are the lifeblood of regional communities and have been working hard for every Victorian to make sure supermarket shelves stay fully stocked during the pandemic,” Mr Walsh said.

“Farmers deserve our support, not deliberate attempts to tarnish their reputation.

“The Liberal Nationals won’t stand by as the unions launch attacks on our farmers, but there’s been nothing but silence from Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes.”

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