Diggings 10 November 2021

This edition of Diggings has a series of articles on migrant labour in the horticulture industry in Australia over the past two weeks. They have been occasioned by a huge win for farm workers wages at the Fair Work Commission. There will no doubt be more to come and Diggings will continue to update you.

Two articles look at thee impact of climate change: one on the impact on fishing communities in the Torres Strait, one on the impact on one food plant.

Last but not last an utterly compelling story that raises so many questions about by whom and how the precise technique for making taypo, an alternative seasoning to salt, was created and over what time.

Fruit-picking pay win could put Australians back to work on farms

The Australia Workers Union hopes more Australians will go into farm work after a historic victory at the Fair Work Commission, which ordered that every farm worker in the country was entitled to the minimum casual pay rate of $25.41 per hour rather than rates as low as $3 an hour. The commission found against the current piece-rate pay arrangements, whereby workers are paid based only on the amount of fruit or vegetables they harvest.


Australian farmers await overseas workforce as locals are too ‘spoilt for choice’

A microcosm of Australians’ reluctance to work on farms can be seen in Victoria’s Yarra valley.CEO of a group of strawberry farms, Miffy Gilbert, struggled to source labour for the current harvest, while her teenage son works as a shelf-stacker at a supermarket. Australians aren’t lazy, according to Gilbert, we’re simply spoilt for choice in a situation mirrored in most developed countries.

“Australians are harder to get, because we’re lucky to have a lot of options in front of us as to what we do for employment,” says Gilbert. “When I grew up there was not a cafe or three on every corner like there is now.”


Pay ruling is the first step to end shameful story on Australian farms

Fundamentally, visa reform is needed to ensure that different groups of migrant workers are not played off against each other by growers seeking a race to the bottom in wages. Unlike employers in any other industry, farmers can find backpackers, Pacific workers and soon South-East Asian workers on a new agriculture visa. Each of these visas have different conditions and offer varying levels of protection against exploitation. The government needs to ensure there is only one visa for horticultural work that is properly regulated to prevent wage exploitation and replicates the protections that already exist in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program. Additionally, the government urgently needs to address the elephant in the room: the industry’s reliance on highly exploited undocumented migrants.


Closing the loophole: a minimum wage for Australia’s farm workers is long overdue

The Horticulture Award, which covers farm fruit and vegetable pickers, does set minimum weekly and hourly rates. But it also permits full-time, part-time or casual employees to make a piece-rate agreement with their employee. Such agreements must be entered into “without coercion or duress”, and the agreed rate is meant to “enable the average competent employee to earn at least 15% more per hour than the minimum hourly rate” set in the award. This has not been the reality for many.


You may bring shame to your family’: Australia launches campaign to stop seasonal farm workers absconding

Alison Rahill, executive officer of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Anti-Slavery Taskforce, said 80% of the workforce were tied to labour hire contractors, which often meant they were working in poor conditions. She said the focus should be about why an employee would want to leave in the first palace. “We’re never concerned about why a worker is leaving an employer,” Rahill said. “Finding out if there were threats, intimidation and abuse. All of the reasons that would contribute to a worker wanting to leave an employer.”


Australia needs better working conditions, not shaming, for Pacific Islander farm workers

All workers on seasonal visas need a right to return in subsequent seasons. This would enable them to complain about mistreatment with less fear of being punished. They also deserve to make their own choices about accommodation and other living conditions. There needs to be capacity to move between employers, and meaningful consequences to hold labour-hire contractors to account for mistreatment. There should also be pathways to permanent residency, as there are for other temporary migration visas. Migrant workers are critical to Australia’s farming sector and food security. What is shameful are the conditions leading so many to abscond.


Cracks in food system driven by year-round hunger for fresh produce begin to show

Agriculture is not the only industry struggling for workers. Many of our key service industries are largely run on temporary and migrant workers: aged care, food service and delivery, and cleaning just to name a few. Perhaps we need to look wider and question the globalised food system we have created. We want cheap food, we want food all year around and we want it now. That leaves workers, farmers and eaters vulnerable. And we haven’t started on the cost to the environment. Eventually, someone has to pay for the true cost of food.


When Tishiko went home, she found exposed burial sites and empty fishing grounds. Now she’s going to Glasgow

Fruit crops weren’t as plentiful, the fishing grounds previously used for coming-of-age rituals no longer hosted fish, and their burial grounds had eroded, exposing the remains of family members, they told her. “First Nations people have done the least to cause the climate crisis, but we are hit the first and the worst,” Ms King said.


Scientists scour Australian rivers in canoes looking for new varieties of taro, the ‘food of the gods’ that’s threatened by climate change

University of Queensland plant physiologist Millicent Smith said domesticated varieties of taro – a staple food in many Pacific countries – were under threat from climate change. “Our nearest neighbours in the Pacific are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly in the coastal regions where rising sea levels and lowering water tables lead to saline soils,” Dr Smith said. “Salinity really reduces the growth of [taro] plants – it stops plants from being able to basically function in their normal way.” Dr Smith said in some cases, soil salinity could kill the crop entirely.


Without a Source for Salt, This Tribe Created a Delicious Substitute

“We’ve always lived amongst the mountains and had little to no contact with the outside world,” says Hibu Rimung, another member of the tribe. The isolated area has no saltwater or salt deposits. “When we eventually learned about salt, we couldn’t afford it. It was overpriced as getting it to Ziro Valley was challenging for traders.” Remarkably, the tribe responded by developing their own salt substitute that is not only a unique ingredient, but spared them from the health problems that often plagued regions without access to salt throughout history. Tapyo is not literally salt—rather, it’s made from plants and plays a similar role in terms of both health and taste.


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