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Anybody that viewed the recent 4 Corners ‘Slaving Away’ report (4 May, 2015) would have been absolutely appalled, as I was, at what they learned.

Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna lifted the lid on sham labour-hire contractors (to classify those operators exposed by 4 Corners as ‘labour-hire firms’ insults the vast majority of the  ndustry who pride themselves on doing the right thing by their workforce).

Recent migrants and working holiday makers were the main victims of these fraudsters who supply casual labour to a host of Australia’s largest fruit, vegetable and meat producers, who in turn supply Australia’s largest supermarket chains.

These sham operators pay their workers below award wages, no penalty or overtime loadings and make no superannuation contributions. As 4 Corners showed, some of these workers, mainly migrant women with poor language skills, are also subjected to verbal, physical and even sexual abuse.

As Meldrum-Hanna showed, unions know about these abuses, parliamentarians know about the abuses, yet nothing seems to be done to stop these outrageous practices.

What if one of the Prime Minister’s daughters had been a victim; do you think something would be done?

The responses by most of the companies named in the report as benefiting, cost-wise, from these practices was quite pathetic. You can read them on the 4 Corners website.

As a customer of Aussie Farmers Direct, I was heartened to see how seriously they took the allegations. AFD sought assurances from the supplier of their chicken meat, which was one of the firms named in the 4 Corners report (Baiada). As a result of this action AFD issued a statement, that read in part:

‘Baiada has been supplying us with Lilydale Free Range chicken in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, so we contacted them for their side of the story. At this stage, the response from Baiada does not address the key allegations to our satisfaction.

Aussie Farmers Direct has therefore decided to stop buying Lilydale Free Range chicken immediately and to remove it from our offer and customers’ orders by this weekend.

We understand that none of the supermarket grocery chains are taking such action and will continue to sell chicken products supplied by Baiada. We believe our customers expect better and that is why we are taking this course of action.’

Retailers and consumers need to stand up to unfair and illegal work practices, because if we don’t, then who will?

I was also very happy to see the RCSA get on the front foot with this very important issue.

Here’s some of the action the RCSA has taken:

1. RCSA released a statement in advance of the Four Corners story which clearly stated that RCSA and its members are appalled by the actions of a few unscrupulous labour-hire contractors.

2. RCSA President spoke to Fairfax Radio and Smart Company on Tuesday morning and provided RCSA view and commentary.

3. RCSA released a statement on Tuesday 5th May calling for a coordinated national response to ‘rub out’ sham labour-hire contractors and also included in the statement initial advice about the Prescribed Industry Code and the planned consultation as a means of staking an RCSA claim in the discussion about an ongoing response.

4. RCSA President has placed calls with Victorian Attorney General, Martin Pakula and George Robinson from the National Union of Workers (who appeared on the Four Corners program) and RCSA are  coordinating their communications.

 5. RCSA has also written to: a) Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection b) John Rau MP, South Australia Attorney General c) The CEOs of leading food retailers and d) The CEOs of industry associations in the agriculture sector. RCSA will also, over the coming days, write to all CEOs of a broader number industry associations and peak bodies.

 6. The RCSA President, Robert van Stokrom (FRCSA) and CEO (Steve Granland) had an initial meeting with Kelly O’Dwyer, Parliamentary Secretary to Treasurer, to provide an initial brief on the Prescribed Industry Code project. Further meetings will occur with Senator the Hon Eric Abetz, Minister for Employment and the Hon Josh Frydenberg, Assistant Treasurer.

The recruitment industry, especially the temporary and labour-hire sub-sectors, is one that has built its success and reputation on the high standards of its members’ behavior. Treating its workers both legally
and fair should be, and largely has been, the minimum benchmark of operation.
Any employment services operator, RCSA member or not, who falls below this standard should be exposed, shamed and have the full force of the law applied to them. No exceptions.

Everybody in our industry has a responsibility to both know the relevant laws, and consistently apply said laws. No exceptions.

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