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Blue harvest

Wage theft and other labour infringements in the NSW mid-north coast's 2019/20 berry harvest
Working Holiday Makers Wage theft Farming Horticulture Casual employees New South Wales

This report adds to the growing evidence base of widespread underpayment and unscrupulous labour hire practices in Australian horticulture, casting a spotlight on the blueberry industry situated on the NSW mid-north coast.

It details the nature of underpayment and labour exploitation in the area, demonstrating that even during the ‘worker shortages’ induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, nefarious behaviour is still occurring in Australian horticulture, leaving both migrant workers and local workers shortchanged and aggrieved by their experience.

Part 1 explores the impact of COVID-19 on the horticultural industry, the established evidence base documenting exploitation in the sector, and the power imbalance inherent in the 88 days regional work requirement associated with WHM visas.

Part 2 then investigates incidents of wage theft and other forms of labour exploitation and employer malfeasance in the Coffs Coast region during the 2019/20 blueberry harvests.

Ultimately, this report concludes that the exploitative practices evident in the Coffs Coast berry industry is the consequence of not just employer malfeasance – but also a broken WHM program that prioritises meeting regional labour demand over facilitating cultural exchange. The program permits — through an omission of government action — underpayment and employer malfeasance to occur with effective impunity, in northern New South Wales and elsewhere.

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