News/AUSTRALIA: NEWS - CRITICS SLAM ILLEGAL ALIENS WORK PLAN.

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Subject: News/AUSTRALIA: NEWS - CRITICS SLAM ILLEGAL ALIENS WORK PLAN.
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Feb 15 2000 - 09:47:55 EST


14Feb00 AUSTRALIA: NEWS - CRITICS SLAM ILLEGAL ALIENS WORK PLAN.
By JANINE MacDONALD with AAP.
CANBERRA
A plan to use illegal workers to solve the chronic shortage of skilled
labor in the fruit-picking industry has been described as ludicrous by the
Opposition and unions.
Unions warned the plan would undermine the wage system and the Opposition
Immigration spokesman, Mr Con Sciacca, said it would send the wrong message
to people-smugglers.
The Immigration Minister, Mr Philip Ruddock, has agreed to consider a
proposal from a coalition of fruit growers to allow immigrants in detention
to work in the fruit-picking industry.
He has asked the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to
prepare an urgent brief outlining the likely cost, security problems and
the legality of employing people without work rights.
The proposal to put thousands of people in Australian detention centres to
work came from an association of southern employers that represents more
than 6000 growers.
But the suggestion has outraged the Australian Workers Union (AWU), which
has ridiculed the idea as inconsistent and unworkable.
The AWU Victorian state secretary, Mr Bill Shorten, said: "If we find a
farm where the Government is sending illegal immigrants, we'll blockade the
farm. It sets a bad precedent, and it'll be impossible to enforce.
"Only last year they were arresting people in the Goulburn Valley (for
being illegal immigrants) and now they're wanting to put them back."
Mr Shorten said the real reason fruit growers could not find labor for
picking was that the money wasn't good enough.
"The majority of farmers try to do the right thing, but pickers find a lot
of the accommodation inadequate and there are occupational health and
safety problems," he said.
"What if someone gets injured? Are they going to pay them compo when they
get home?"
Mr Sciacca said the idea should be dismissed out of hand.
"It sends the exact converse message that we have been trying to send over
the last 12 months," he said.
Mr Ruddock signalled yesterday there were impediments to the plan -
including the cost of security, accommodation, wages and relocating
migrants from the north to the southern fruit-picking states.
He said farmers would have to pay award wages but most of the earnings
would be paid to the Federal Government to cover the multi-million-dollar
cost of illegal immigration.
The scheme would be voluntary.
"Any amounts of money that would be received (by the worker) I think after
proper recoupment of costs wouldn't be a significant incentive," Mr Ruddock
said.
"I'm looking at it. A proposal doesn't mean we've accepted it." - with AAP.

AGE (MELBOURNE) 14/02/2000 P4


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