Federal Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon has used a Parliamentary speech today to call for the reform of temporary work visa schemes following revelations of worker exploitation at a Singleton mushroom farm.

Mr Fitzgibbon told the Parliament he’d been tipped off more than two years ago that the farm may have been using illegal workers but the Department of Immigration either didn’t have the power or was unprepared to act. 

“I contacted the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to express concern about the conditions and legitimacy of foreign workers at a mushroom farm just outside the township of Singleton in my electorate”, Mr Fitzgibbon told the Parliament.

“My office was told by the Department that it had no concerns about the firm and the foreign workers.”

“I also raised the issue with an industry leader in the mushroom sector who assured me that Gromor, the firm involved, was one that does the right thing.  He was confident that everything that was done there was legitimate and within the rules”.

“So you can imagine my distress today when I learned, courtesy of The Newcastle Herald, that the foreign workers—mainly Asian workers with little or no English—have been collectively underpaid to the tune of some $90,000”.

“We in this place have seen this too often. It happened at another facility in the Hunter region, Baiada's Beresfield chicken facility.  It is happening too often.  We need to have a debate beyond the ill-conceived backpacker's tax.  We need to look at 417s and 462s to re-assure ourselves that workers are not being exploited and that Australians are not being denied jobs because of the use of foreign workers.”
“I do not know whether the firm involved knew about the pay arrangements because, like so many, it had engaged a labour provider known as TDS International.”

Temporary workers are critically important to the agriculture sector which often relies on backpackers to undertake work Australians can’t be found for.  That’s why the Government’s backpacker’s tax is a mistake.

But the temporary work visa system is being abused and workers are being exploited.  It has to be fixed. 

It appears that while the Singleton workers were underpaid, they were working legally.  But that just gives more power to the case for reform. 

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