Major meat processing companies often like to claim that they are forced to use overseas visa workers at their plants because locals simply “don’t want to work”. This claim has been repeated so often that even politicians who should know better, like Australia’s own Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, have accepted it as truth.
But it’s not.
Here at the AMIEU, we know that local Australians are actually desperate for work — as the skyrocketing youth unemployment rate in regional Australia shows. In 2015 we set out to prove it, spending three days walking up and down the streets of Tamworth in NSW, collecting signatures and asking locals if they wanted a job at one of the three major meat works in the area.
During those three days, we spoke to hundreds of locals and — just as we suspected — plenty of them were willing and eager to work. We heard from one young man who spent 11 and-a-half months on a Certificate II traineeship in meat processing, only to be laid off with two weeks to go. Another young woman told us that she had applied to Baiada in Tamworth multiple times and been through the induction process, but not ever given a job.
At the AMIEU we naturally support the use of international workers when a genuine shortage exists. However, many meat processing companies turn to international workers as their first choice simply because they can afford to pay them less and exploit them more (something we know all about from our work exposing international worker exploitation at Baiada).
It was clear to us that local young women and men simply were not getting a start, despite overwhelming evidence that they are ready and willing to work. Many of the young people we spoke to told us they felt “hopeless” about the prospect of ever getting a job and would “take anything” — but they knew it was no use applying at the abattoirs because they would get knocked back.
After these three days we had collected more than 100 signatures including names and addresses of local Tamworth youth who were keen to work at the abattoirs, showing conclusively that any meat processor who “couldn’t find locals willing to work” was lying. Thanks to our efforts, 15 of those locals were immediately given a start at Baiada in Tamworth and another dozen more were later brought on.
We continue to fight for local employment in Tamworth, campaigning outside Barnaby Joyce’s office in the leadup to the 2016 Federal Election to bring attention to the issue and make Barnaby Joyce answer for the outrageous youth unemployment figures in his own electorate.
This is what we mean when we demand politicians force corporations to undertake independent local labour market testing. Major companies will always have an incentive to prefer cheap, exploitable labour over local workers — but this must not be allowed to continue.