Thailand authorities have not been silent on the issue either. The Department of Labour publicly warned citizens that the ASEAN farm worker scheme had many scammers ready to fraudulently sign up locals as workers to Australia. The Thai Department of Labour has been silent on whether Thailand will participate in the Australian scheme.
The writer has been advised from a reliable source that the Cambodian authorities feel Australia is not enthusiastic about Cambodian participation and has consequently remained silent on the issue.
Labour and Social Welfare Minister Khambay Khatthiya of Laos was reported by the Laotian Times last October as saying that her country would participate in the scheme, but to date Laos has not given any official approval.
There have been no announcements by the Australian minister to date on the intentions of the Philippines or Vietnam.
This has left many potential applicants in ASEAN countries who have been hard hit by the Covid pandemic without the opportunity to work in Australia. This cohort has the capacity to work across a wide spectrum of agricultural activities, with the ability to earn between AUD 900-1500 per week. ASEAN workers would have picked up new skills and ideas working in Australia, which would have greatly benefitted their home country upon their return, amounting to a brain gain.
Daniel Dalton, spokesman for the Australian Workers Union (AWU), which is strongly affiliated with the Australian Labor Party (ALP) said in a Channel 7 News interview that the new agriculture visa is dangerous and will pave a way for even more exploitation. Further, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Michelle O'Neill warned that a second class workforce would occur from the visa. The AWU has gone to every ASEAN embassy and high commission asking them not to support the visa scheme.
A group of university academics, greens, and unionists are against the visa on the grounds of potential exploitation. However, there have been few examples of exploitation reported to have occurred within the Pacific Island farm workers scheme, run along very similar lines.
The tragedy here for the union movement is they don't see the opportunity to become involved in the process, helping to ensure there is no exploitation by representing workers and bolstering their membership at the same time.
Political reverberations have also hit the coalition, where National MPs have accused Liberals of obstructing the bilateral deals with ASEAN governments. Should the scheme collapse, there will certainly be electoral ramifications for sitting rural members in the coming federal election.
It appears the diplomatic snags associated with the ASEAN farm worker visa scheme have occurred because of either incompetence or sabotage by the Canberra bureaucracy. Too much trust has been put in faceless bureaucrats who have misread the independent and complex agendas of their ASEAN counterparts.
It's time for Australian politicians to take matters into their own hands and either amend 403.281 (a) in line with other temporary work visas, or go on the diplomatic offensive to secure the agreement of at least one or two ASEAN governments to the scheme. This is not only urgent for Australia's rural sector, but also the nation's food security.
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