Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s recent comments about Queensland meat workers is more evidence of the federal Coalition’s contempt for regional workers.
Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said Joyce’s media comments today (The Guardian, ‘In the country, we don’t see 457 visa holders as a threat’, 28 November 2016) reflected his ignorance of the impact of current livestock export policies on local meat workers.
“Joyce leads the National Party that would rather our livestock is shipped overseas to benefit a few graziers rather than introduce policies so local meatworks have enough stock to ensure they stay open and productive and provide employment to regional workers,” she said.
“He leads a government that prefers to use and abuse an itinerant workforce of temporary work visa holders rather than create conditions for sustainable, decent, well-paying jobs for workers in regional Australia.
“Contrary to his claims today, abattoir jobs are not “unpopular jobs”. Just ask any of the hundreds of Townsville workers who were stood down for months earlier this year because of the impact of live cattle export.
“Ask the families and communities if their ‘towns are happy’ when these workers see cattle trucks full of livestock heading for the docks and exported for processing overseas,” she said.
“His comments are condescending and show he’s out of touch with on regional jobs and the factors that ensure they remain sustainable,” she said.
Ms McLennan said Mr Joyce should make sure his government requires businesses to advertise jobs to local workers properly, before they are allowed to bring in 417 and 457 visa workers.
Government figures show 100 meatworking jobs went to 457 visa holders in Queensland in 2016*, an increase of 10 per cent on 2015. Meatworking jobs are currently one of the top 15 occupations for 457 visa holders.
AMIEU Queensland State Secretary Matt Journeaux said exploitation of 417 visa holders also posed many threats for both these workers and the local resident workforce.
“We have seen a massive increase in the use of 417s through a third party, typically a labour hire company, that will supply the lower skilled jobs within meat processing, ” he said.
Mr Journeaux said exploitation of workers by unscrupulous labour hire companies was a huge issue in the regions.
The federal Coalition has failed to act on labour hire rip-offs, despite the impact on employment in regional communities.
“We raised this issue in three separate Senate inquiries, about the use of temporary migrant workers and its negative effect on industry and the economy,” Mr Journeaux said.
Joyce’s comment about “unpopular jobs” in meatworking like boning out skulls belittled the skills and dedication of local meatworkers, he said.