by Matt Journeaux, Acting Federal Secretary Australasian Meat Industries Employees Union

Federal MP David Littleproud recently announced the introduction of a new agricultural visa that will allow employers to bring in workers from South East Asia for the agricultural industry. These include labourers and skilled workers.

In a move that defies logic the Federal Government has given the meat processing industry the green light to a newly developed visa.

Reports say that the new visa will take effect from late September.
The meat processing industry has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted with the current heavily regulated visa program let alone the free-for-all that has recently been announced.
In the early 2000s migrant workers increasingly entered the meat industry in Australia. Extensive investigation discovered the overwhelming number of these workers were brought into Australia under falsified documentation. The Australian and New Zealand Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) classifications at the time did not allow “meatworkers” to be brought in under the subclass 457 visa program.

The meat industry was sponsoring these workers under the classification of retail butchers – only to use them as boners, slicers and slaughtermen in abattoirs – effectively meatworkers. No classification existed for these groups of workers.

Amanda Vanstone (immigration Minister at the time) was so desperate to legitimise these arrangements she worked with industry to form the Meat Industry Labour Agreement (MILA)
Under the MILA conditions were imposed on jobs a visa holder could perform, minimum salary levels and payment of airfares to and from the country of origin. It also contained a pathway to permanent residency. The minimum salary level increase was to increase annually with the CPI.
Widespread rorting of this system still occurred. The Australasian Meat Industries Employees Union has represented these workers in numerous cases of exploitation under this visa. These include underpayment of wages, sexual harassment, obscene rents being charged for homes often owned by management, extortion, unfair dismissal and lack of skill requirements just to name a few.

The recent series of exposes by Richard Baker, in the Sydney Morning Herald, has again highlighted
the rampant exploitation of foreign workers in the meat industry. It has also trained the spotlight on
organised crime syndicates that prey on these workers.

Anyone that has read these articles should be sick to their stomachs. This treatment is nothing more
than modern day slavery with some workers having their passports removed and unable to return to
their own countries. It is a classic case of the bottom line is the number one priority and workers are
treated as an expendable commodity.

Not all the employers in the industry have treated their guest workers this way. I call on the
reputable operators to call out this bad behaviour publicly. The lowest standard is the standard we
accept. As an industry staying silent on these issues is just not good enough.
The meat industry has claimed for a long time that it cannot attract local workers and desperately
needs overseas workers for its survival.

When I started in the industry 37 years ago we would line up at the gate outside abattoirs with the
hope of getting a job. The hours were good and the pay reflected the work you did.
Roll on to 2021 and the industry does struggle to attract people but a lot of its woes have been
brought upon itself. An industry that once had people lined up to work, now, in some cases pays
less than stacking shelves in supermarkets.

I call on the Morrison-led government to condemn this behaviour and to exclude the meat industry
from this new agricultural visa.

It beggars belief that this Federal Government would reward this atrocious behaviour with a visa with
a lower level of scrutiny and more room to exploit these workers.
It’s like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house.