7 October 2020

Bernard Keane: “[T]he industry has urged the government to force people into horticulture by cutting back JobSeeker payments, which are said to deter people from going bush to travel the ‘harvest trail’. It also wants borders reopened for temporary migrants and incentives for backpackers to stay longer. One Liberal MP… reportedly wants to conscript young people for fruitpicking. Realising the bad optics of this, he says he’d settle for cutting off JobSeeker payments to young people who refuse to pick fruit. … The government’s response is to announce it will use taxpayer money to ‘incentivise’ young people to ‘have a crack’ at horticulture. … As for union militancy, strikes are almost non-existent in Australia. This year, according to ABS data, days lost per 1000 workers to strike action fell to 0.3 days in the March quarter and 0.1 in the June quarter. Twenty years ago the comparable figures were 19.4 and 22.6. … One look at wages growth since the Coalition was elected will tell you we need a lot more, not less, union militancy. We need more strikes, not fewer. We need more workers engaging in industrial disputes, and forcing concessions from employers. Nothing else, it seems, is going to lift wages growth, and therefore strengthen demand. Indeed, if the horticulture sector had a stronger union presence… it’s likely there’d be a lot less wage theft, exploitation and routine sexual harassment. It might even be an industry that didn’t need the government to bribe or coerce people to work in it.”