Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh says there is no need to have an “expensive and time consuming” Royal Commission into worker exploitation in the blueberry industry in Coffs Harbour when the problems have already been identified.
Coffs Harbour MP Gurmesh Singh says there is no need to have an “expensive and time consuming” Royal Commission into worker exploitation in the blueberry industry in Coffs Harbour when the problems have already been identified.

No point having blueberry royal commission: Singh

Many of the issues raised in the damning Blue Harvest report, released late last year, fall under the responsibility of the Federal Government according to State Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh.

The Blue Harvest report detailed widespread exploitation of berry pickers in the Coffs Harbour region, particularly people on the Working Holiday Maker Visa.

Blueberry pickers hard at work.
Blueberry pickers hard at work.

In particular, the report highlighted the unscrupulous and often illegal behaviour of labour hire firms.

"Most of the issues fall under the federal sphere unfortunately. Visas are a federal matter," Mr Singh said.

"And again employment law and enforcement are responsibilities of the Federal Government through the Fair Work Ombudsman - full stop.

"There's a reason we have three different levels of government because they do three different things."

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The Blue Harvest report was conducted by the The McKell Institute and sponsored by The Retail Supply Chain Alliance unions (WU, TWU and SDA). It was released in early December and prompted calls for a Royal Commission into the exploitation, wage theft, and abuse the unions say is rife in the industry.

Gurmesh Singh says there is no reason to have an “expensive and time consuming” Royal Commission into the indexploitation, wage theft, and abuse in the industry.
Gurmesh Singh says there is no reason to have an “expensive and time consuming” Royal Commission into the indexploitation, wage theft, and abuse in the industry.

But Mr Singh says there is no reason to have an "expensive and time consuming" Royal Commission when the main problems - unscrupulous labour hiring firms in particular - have already been identified.

He 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.

"We are concerned that Mr Singh's call for a National Licencing Scheme will not produce any results, and may be a distraction from the state government taking real action," Mr Cassell said.

Federal MP Pat Conaghan, State MP Gurmesh Singh and NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole in Coffs Harbour last year.
Federal MP Pat Conaghan, State MP Gurmesh Singh and NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole in Coffs Harbour last year.

Mr Cassell says the Coffs Harbour blueberry industry has been singled out for several years for serious allegations of wage-theft.

"Now with the release of the McKell Institute's report, we again see the scale of the problem.

"Back in 2017, the Migrant Worker Taskforce found that 400,000 workers had been underpaid with most of those in the horticulture sector.

"We need to review how state and federal laws are failing the very workers farmers need to pick the food we all eat."

Greens MP in the NSW Parliament, David Shoebridge and Jonathan Cassell.
Greens MP in the NSW Parliament, David Shoebridge and Jonathan Cassell.

Mr Cassell says the industry has been struggling with self-regulation for many years.

"What is becoming clear is the industry is looking more like it's in crisis than in good health. The time for a deeper review is needed to make sure the industry has a secure and sustainable future."

Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan has been contacted for a response.


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