Fed govt: No need for berry worker royal commission
The Federal Government says there is no need for a Royal Commission into the working conditions of berry pickers.
Calls have grown for a Royal Commission since the publication of the Blue Harvest report late last year.
Researchers spent 12 weeks in the region, gathering data and stories from blueberry workers employed during the 2020 picking season. They found that some were paid as little as $7 a bucket to pick low-quality fruit - the equivalent of $3 an hour.
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The report has prompted unions to call for a Royal Commission into the exploitation, wage theft, and abuse they say is rife in the industry.
But Federal Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management and Deputy Leader of the National Party David Littleproud is not convinced.
"The Government at this stage doesn't believe that a Royal Commission is required or warranted," he said in response to the Advocate's questions.
Mr Littleproud says the Australian Government has zero tolerance for worker exploitation.
"But it's important to recognise that the vast majority of farmers do the right thing by their workers."
He says the Federal Government has provided significant additional resources to the Fair Work Ombudsman to investigate and penalise businesses doing the wrong thing.
"We are also establishing a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to target rogue employers and protect vulnerable workers from exploitation."
His comments come after the Coffs Harbour State Member Gurmesh Singh said many of the issues raised in the Blue Harvest report fall within the "federal sphere".
Mr Singh also brushed off the idea of a an"expensive and time consuming" Royal Commission when the main problems - unscrupulous labour hiring firms in particular - have already been identified.
Mr Singh has proposed a nationwide licensing scheme to help address the problems but convener for the Coffs Harbour Greens Jonathan Cassell is concerned this will not go far enough to fix the problem and could be a "distraction from the state government taking real action".