AWU: Shearing Contractors Assoc email proves Ag Visa a threat to regional jobs, especially women’s

A RECENT email from an employer group obtained by the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) confirms the union’s fears that the Federal Government's new Ag Visa scheme "will flood regional Australia with poorly paid foreign workers at the expense of local jobs, especially among young women".

AWU national secretary Dan Walton said the email was proof that the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, "in cahoots with the National Farmers Federation", is basically saying, “Let’s get in on the chance for cheap labour.”

The Ag Visa scheme, hastily announced in the wake of the new Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement signed at the G7, targets vulnerable workers from South East Asia.

In the email to its members, the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia (SCAA) said it envisaged members “accessing some of the 700 ‘Non-skilled’ workers from an ASEAN country -- most likely Indonesia but that is to be confirmed -- who will arrive over summer”.

“The workers will be paid Shed Hand Award wages (not the higher rates),” the letter said. “This is not the only opportunity to engage overseas workers, just the first opportunity. Once the system is established, it’s likely you can engage the workers directly and therefore at a lower cost.”

Mr Walton said what the AWU has feared – that the Ag Visa will simply be used as a way for unscrupulous employers to cut wages and conditions – is now happening.

“This email is just like an order form: How many cheap workers do you want? Put in your request now so you can pay them a much lower rate,” Mr Walton said.

Stef Mackey, a roustabout and shed hand working in a contracting team near Young, NSW, said more than 80 percent of the nation’s roustabouts were young women.

“These Ag Visas will not only take jobs from young Australians in regional towns with high unemployment, they will also target young women and deny them a foot in the door of the shearing industry,” Ms Mackey said.

“And every single shearer on our team started out rousting, so if they don’t get that opportunity because it's no longer there, we’ll soon run out of shearers.”

Mr Walton said he could not see how the Federal Government, NFF and SCAA could justify claims of a shearing-industry labour shortage.

“What shortage? We have had two years of pandemic, wool prices are up, total wool production is up and the flock was shorn, even though they said it couldn’t possibly be done without overseas workers,” he said.



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