Australia’s drunken uncle Barnaby Joyce has continued his extraordinary campaign of attacking Australian meat workers, demonstrating once more just how fundamentally out of touch he is with the rural Australia he claims to represent.
Joyce published an opinion piece on Monday in The Guardian, in which he claimed that the 457 skilled migrant visa program was necessary to provide country towns with doctors, nurses… and meat workers.
In fact as far as Joyce is concerned, meat working is a disgusting and “unpopular” job that only second-class labourers like 457 visa workers are fit to endure.
“Do you want to pack offal, or the smelly guts of a cow? Do you want to bone out skulls?” asks Joyce.
“Someone has to do these unpopular jobs if the abattoir is to work properly. And when people come in from overseas to do it, the town is happy, the abattoir is working, and people have jobs.”
Let’s be clear about what Joyce is suggesting here – that meat working is a pathetic, disgusting occupation, beneath ordinary Australians and suitable only for foreigners who must be flown in to handle it.
Joyce’s comments are an insult to existing meat workers, to the 3,000 unemployed meat workers across the country, and to the generations of proud meat working families who poured their heart and soul into providing food for all Australians.
We reject Joyce’s outrageous suggestion that meat working is something to be sneered at and avoided at all costs, rather than vital and necessary work that puts meals on the tables of millions.
Get your house in order
Is Barnaby Joyce really suggesting that the reason that his own electorate of Tamworth has a youth unemployment rate of more than double the national average is because local kids are too good to work at abattoirs?
Does Barnaby Joyce really think that kids in his home town just want to “sit around getting fat and playing video games” rather than earning money and being able to make something of themselves?
Does Barnaby Joyce think the big two meat processors in his own electorate are just not employing locals because the locals don’t want to do the work?
Joyce is dangerously out of touch. Maybe he should get his live export mates at Stanbroke to charter him a personal flight to Tamworth so he can speak to the kids on the street like we have.
We were in Tamworth for three days last year doing local labour market testing. We spoke to hundreds of kids and the answer was always the same: they want to work. They’re desperate for it.
These towns aren’t “happy” – they’re being crushed under chronic unemployment. The abattoir isn’t “working” – Australia is in the grip of a record cattle shortage and every abattoir across the country has either stood down or sacked workers.
How can Barnaby Joyce possibly stand up and say the 457 visa scheme is working? How can a meat processor possibly demonstrate the “genuine need” legally required to bring in a 457 visa worker when every abattoir in the country is standing locals down due to ongoing cattle shortages?
Joyce’s idea that 457 visa workers are necessary because Australians just aren’t willing to do these “unpopular” jobs is pure fiction.
The reason that Australian meat workers are going hungry, and that youth unemployment rates are so high is that employers are turning to backpackers and student visa holders, not 457 visa holders, to take the place of locals.
Backpacker and student visa workers have a number of advantages over locals. There’s no Meat Industry Labour Agreement protecting them like there is for 457 visa workers, so they can be paid well below the minimum wage (as low as $6 in some cases). They generally do not speak English, which means they struggle to organise for better pay, or to call for help.
And best of all – unlike 457 visa workers – backpacker and student visa workers have almost no rights or protections preventing them from being sacked on a whim.
The AMIEU endorses the employment of overseas workers when a genuine need exists to do so. We have helped hundreds of exploited visa workers recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in underpayments from shady companies. But Joyce clearly needs to look to the problems in his own back yard before attacking local workers as lazy and entitled.
If Joyce is truly so concerned about supporting rural Australia, maybe he should look at meaningful change – like stopping the Coalition Government that he is the Deputy Prime Minister of from stripping funding from pre-vocational training, from apprenticeships and the TAFE system.
Maybe he should look at withdrawing from his unconditional support for live exports – a greedy, cruel and parasitic industry that quite literally sends Australian meat working jobs offshore and is contributing to the country’s massive cattle shortage.
Maybe he should take a look at recent data from the Fair Pay Campaign, run by the AMIEU, NUW and United Voice – data which shows more than one in four Australian workers are being underpaid?
This is the system that Barnaby Joyce has presided over for years – a system that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. A system that attacks local Australians at every level, stripping them of training, stripping them of employment options, and sidelining them in favour of overseas workers who will be chewed up and spat out, missing thousands of dollars in wages.
There are 3,000 Australian meat workers out of work right now, and when Barnaby Joyce puts his signature on the China Free Trade Agreement, that number is only going to get worse.
If Joyce really cares about what’s happening in his own backyard, he should stop sneering at the people who put meat on his table and start putting money into training options, employment protections, and real, meaningful policy that will protect all workers.