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Union rejects fruit-picking proposal, says industry is ‘full’ of abuse and ‘wage theft’

The Australian Workers Union says a plan from the federal government to entice the unemployed to work on farms is “nothing short of modern day slavery”.

There are fears there’ll be a lot of harvest wasted this year, due to the shortage of workers.

The fruit-picking workforce is often made up of seasonal workers, immigrants and backpackers.

COVID-19 means they can’t get here.

Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, said there was a reason Australians didn’t take up the work.

“What we’ve seen, time and time again from this industry, is repeat offenders and seen the worst cases of systematic abuse, be it wage theft, theft of superannuation, we’ve seen violence and sexual harassment in this industry,” he said.

“It’s not a couple of bad apples, it’s an industry full of repeat offenders.”

He rejected suggestions Australians were lazy.

“Australians aren’t afraid of hard work, Australians aren’t lazy, which is what the federal agriculture minister said,” he said.

“What Australians don’t want is to get ripped off at work.”

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Emma Germano, a cauliflower farmer and vice-president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, told Neil Mitchell the idea was nothing new.

She isn’t holding her breath about it coming to, pardon the pun, fruition.

“I’m totally frustrated, because we say the same thing over and over again,” Ms Germano explained.

“It’s like groundhog day.”

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