Currently the nation’s largest greenhouse, located in South Australia, is under scrutiny for underpaying seasonal migrant workers. The greenhouse is run by the company Perfection Fresh which is majority owned by the Smorgon family, one of Australia’s richest families.
About 150,000 migrant workers come to Australia each year and many are taken advantage of. Seasonal farm workers often come to Australia under the 417 visa scheme, which is a working holiday visa valid for up to a year. Many 417 visa holders use the money they make to help support their poverty-stricken families.
Controversy began when the Perfection Fresh workers noticed that for a 38-hour week they were being paid $800 but their wages were being deducted for things like airfares, accommodation and transportation, leaving them with only $500 per week.
The workers contacted the National Union of Workers (NUW) and have begun to organise and push for proper pay and conditions. Their campaign has already led to some improvements but their struggle is ongoing.
MADEC, the employment firm supplying the seasonal workers to Perfection Fresh (with the ironic slogan of ‘Stronger Communities’) threatened to sack the workers if they did not quit the union. Under pressure some have left the union but the NUW is trying to win more to their ranks by campaigning for all of the 440 workers to be put on full time.
Seasonal workers need both job security and security in their ability to stay in Australia. The lack of security is what drives employers to take advantage of these people. Ultimately these workers need to be afforded full residency rights and security of tenure in their jobs.
This would end the threats of job loss and deportation. It would also ensure the right to organise, unionise and demand proper wages for their work as well as reducing the power of dodgy employers.
By Amy Johnson