"Slaving Away": Temporary Migrant Workers in Australia's Farm Workforce

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:42
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Iain CAMPBELL, RMIT University, Australia
Martina BOESE, Latrobe University, Australia
The farm workforce in Australia has been transformed over the past ten years, as employers in the sector have come to rely more heavily on temporary migrant workers. Farm employers are able to draw on a rich and growing variety of types of temporary migrant, spurred on by a new globalisation of labour supply. They include undocumented workers – generally on tourist visas without work rights – and participants in the small Seasonal Worker Programme, which draws on workers from eight Pacific island nations together with Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea. Perhaps the major source of seasonal labour is the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) scheme (417 and 462 visas), which since 2005 has deliberately supported farmer employers by offering a second year on the 417 visa if the WHM can demonstrate that they have completed 88 days of specified work in a regional area.  The number of WHMs engaging in farmwork has boomed, with labour hire agencies, either in the home country or in Australia, stepping in to organise the traffic into regional areas and the accommodation in ‘working hostels’.  This paper describes the growing significance of the 417 visa scheme as a source of farm labour. It draws on extensive interviews conducted in 2015, primarily with WHMs, to describe the impact of low wages and poor working conditions and to analyse the experiences of precariousness.  It argues that the growing significance of the scheme illustrates and reinforces the dilemmas of labour regulation in the sector. Increased supply of a vulnerable group of workers to service employers’ needs has led to several unfortunate consequences, including cases of worker abuse, the spread of unfair competition amongst employers, diffusion of precarious and informal work, and displacement of competing sources of labour from groups such as participants in the Seasonal Worker Programme.