‘What Shall It Profit’ – Australian labour exploitation and cheap goods

Forced labour exploitation

Illustration by Garth Jones

Dr Mark Zirnsak, Director of the Justice and International Mission Unit (JIM), has given an interview to The Weekly Times in response to the Uniting Church’s stance on worker exploitation in Australian agriculture.

Dr Zirnsak credits members of the church for alerting the unit that human trafficking and exploitation was taking place in rural Victoria. “Our members, out of their Christian faith, take a strong interest in human rights issues” Dr Zirnsak said.

“They have picked up on issues of human trafficking and forced labour and a lot of that has focused on what happens overseas,but it has come as a shock that we have come across some similar issues here in Australia.”

The JIM unit’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Impact of Temporary Work Visas (tiny.cc/6ivw0x) outlined a number of issues uncovered over the years of its work for the synod. Identifying Australian agriculture, construction and hospitality industries, as practicing in trafficking and forced labour, the submission outlined a number of case studies involving the non-payment or abusive treatment of workers from overseas.

Dr Zirnsak also wrote to the Senate that the term ‘human trafficking’ is popularly understood to refer exclusively to the exploitation of women and young girls. He argues that this ‘invisible’ practice guarantees high profits for Australian companies availing of migrant workers forced to subsist on very little pay.

Further criminalisation of workers involved in forced labour was also identified by the submission, such as the case of a raid on a Perth crime syndicate’s money laundering scheme in Carabooda WA, on 3 May 2014. Migrant workers present at a market garden compound were arrested and deported. The submission asks why it was not assessed whether they were victims of exploitation.

The JIM unit’s submission recommends tighter regulation, including employer responsibility regarding the use of migrant workers and accessibility of legal assistance.

Investigations of the effects of supermarket monopolies on Australian agriculture have shone a light on how exploitation of workers is inevitable, given the ability of the supermarket monopolies to squeeze the food supply chains.

And while the advertising campaigns portray hardworking, smiling Australian farmers working the land, the likes of Four Corners show a very different reality.

All in the name of lower prices for the Aussie consumer and higher profits for shareholders.

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