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Union slams plan to discount HECS for students who take fruit picking gap year

The Australian Workers’ Union has slammed a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry suggesting HECS debt discounts be provided to school leavers who are willing to take a fruit picking gap year.

The proposal comes amid severe labour shortages at Australian farms, which usually rely on foreign holidaymakers during the harvest season.

Many foreign backpackers returned home as COVID-19 set in, leaving farms short of workers.

But Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, Misha Zelinsky, said the plan is attempting to attract workers to an “exploitative” industry.

“Rather than coming up with all these different, cute ways to force more and more people into the sector, we really need to look at what’s going on,” he told Dee Dee.

“It is built on wage theft.

“People aren’t silly, they know that these jobs are full of exploitation, they’re full of wage theft, you don’t get your super and in really bad instances you’ve got verbal, physical or in some shocking cases sexual abuse.”

Mr Zelinsky called on farmers who do pay their workers properly to call out those who don’t.

“You’ve got to start calling out the bad actors here,” he said.

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Image: iStock – Getty

Push for incentives to encourage school leavers to spend their gap year picking fruit