“Federal Government plans to target growers under immigration reforms are manifestly unfair,” the Peak Industry Body for Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers – AUSVEG – declared today.

“A consultation period of little over a month is also indefensible as this is barely providing sufficient time for affected parties to even be aware of the proposed reforms,” said AUSVEG CEO Mr Richard Mulcahy.

AUSVEG has today raised concerns regarding the recent release of an exposure draft of the Migration Amendment Bill 2012 by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP.

“The Australian vegetable industry relies heavily on workers sourced from overseas through labour hire companies in order to remain viable. These workers must adhere to strict visa conditions in order to work legally on Australian farms, however, the proposed Bill appears to place additional responsibility with vegetable growers to double check the legalities when in our view it is the labour hire companies that should be responsible for the legal employment of the workers that they supply,” said Mr Mulcahy.

“It is unfair to require that vegetable growing operations must double check the legality of workers when the employment arrangement itself is between the labour hire company and the employee, with the labour hire company effectively providing a service to the grower,” said Mr Mulcahy.

AUSVEG is the National Peak Industry Body representing Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers who contribute over three billion dollars per annum to the Australian economy.

The policy commentary which accompanies the proposed legislation outlines that employers need to “create a contractual obligation for another party to verify whether a worker is an unlawful non-citizen,” however, AUSVEG believes that if a vegetable grower employs a foreign worker through a labour hire company, the onus of responsibility to ensure that the worker is employed legally should rest with the labour hire company that is providing the service.

“Foreign workers are often employed through labour hire companies which are supposed to ensure that these workers have the correct documentation, yet the new legislation appears to instead place the responsibility and cost of checking with the grower, unless there is a written agreement in place that says otherwise,” said Mr Mulcahy.

“When you hail a taxi, you expect that the driver is permitted to drive such a vehicle and the responsibility to ensure that this is the case rests with the cab company.  The same should be the case here with labour supply operations,” said Mr Mulcahy.

“AUSVEG strongly opposes illegal practices but it is essential that vegetable growers still have access to vital legal migrant labour to survive.  They should have confidence that the workers they access through labour hire companies have been legally employed, are reliable and are permitted to work in Australia as part of the payment they make for that service.  To require additional checks be completed by the end user will be costly and overly burdensome.”

“AUSVEG is looking forward to working with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in order to ensure that Australian growers can continue to access migrant labour in a legal, but efficient manner,” said Mr Mulcahy.