Food with justice: informality, exploitation and the SWP

By Michael Rose To use an appropriately agricultural metaphor, 2018 was a bumper year for the Australian Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP).

From scarcely 1,000 participants in 2011, for the 2018 calendar year the SWP has grown to involve 10,465 workers from throughout the Pacific and Timor-Leste. Supporters of the Programme convincingly argue that it represents a chance to both supply rural Australia with well-regulated labour and help our neighbours. Given its strategic value and social good, SWP advocates have expressed concern that an expanded ‘backpacker’ visa introduced at the end of 2018 will derail this momentum.

There are all sorts of human stories behind the success of the SWP, wonderful and terrible, all worthy of consideration, none condemning or vindicating the Programme in toto. All suggest realities and patterns that policy makers need to consider and scholars might help interpret. But, stepping back, the big picture is that money saved or sent back home by SWP workers finds its way to where it’s needed, efficiently and free of the distorting stigma of charity.

The thinking of Australian policy makers on this issue must take into account the reality that it plays out at the intersection of two powerful imperatives.

The first is that humans need to eat. Or, updated to twenty first century Australia, expect to eat whatever they wish, whenever they want. While taken for granted this necessitates an elaborate agricultural-industrial-logistical complex, which even in an age of smart mechanisation is chronically short of competent labour.

The second is the precious nature of agriculture. Even today, it is time sensitive, often physically arduous work, and often involves realities of life and death that many find off-putting. In agriculture we have an industry with a desperate and ongoing need for labour and a product which people will ultimately do anything to get. Agricultural labour …read more

From:: Development Policy Centre – DEVPOLICY Blog

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