Horticulture

Finding workers tougher if bill passes: McNab

By Rodney Woods

The VFF and Fruit Growers Victoria are concerned about legislation they say will put more pressure on fruit growers when contracting labour hire during harvest.

The Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017 has passed the Victorian Legislative Assembly and is set to be voted on in the Legislative Council in coming days.

Fruit Growers Victoria deputy chair Mitchell McNab is worried if the bill becomes law, many orchardists will feel the pinch. The VFF agrees.

‘‘As an industry we already have issues to find people to help harvest,’’ Mr McNab, who is also HV McNab & Son Orchards orchard manager, said.

‘‘This will lead to more issues in terms of staff.’’

Mr McNab is also worried about the cost of contractor licences, which he believes will end up being paid by growers.

‘‘They want to licence all contractors. These licences could be between $5000 and $15000,’’ he said.

‘‘And this licensing fee will be passed onto the grower,’’ he said.

Mr McNab said the bill had only needed four votes from independents to be knocked down in the Legislative Assembly, and accused State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed of being unaware of the bill’s potential damage to the Shepparton district and voting with Labor.

Ms Sheed disagreed.

‘‘I voted for the bill for a number of reasons. Reputation for an industry is important and it needs to be restored,’’ she said.

‘‘My view on legislation ... may be a surprise to some people but I vote for what is right.

‘‘While I acknowledge there will be challenges for businesses, I have come from a farming background and the Victorian Inquiry into Labour Hire and Insecure Work in October 2016 revealed some awful cases of exploitation.’’

Mr McNab and the VFF said the current laws were better, if they were more strictly enforced, than the proposed changes.

‘‘They are trying to legitimise the industry and I don’t disagree with that but there are laws already in place to stop this from happening,’’ Mr McNab said.

‘‘They (Australian Tax Office, Fair Work Ombudsman and Immigration Commission) should be doing better to stop these rogue operators.

‘‘We don’t need legislation on top of legislation.’’

Ms Sheed was adamant it was important to stop exploitation before it began.

‘‘(The current laws) are clearly not being enforced. This way regulation is at the front end and we aren’t chasing people after the damage has been done,’’ she said.