Farmers and unions have clashed over calls to stop hiring international backpackers to harvest Australian crops and employ unemployed young people instead.
Three high profile unions have joined forces to call for the working holiday maker visa to be abolished, arguing the program is rife with systemic and widespread exploitation.
They have called for more young people in regional and rural areas to be hired, and urged federal politicians to allow more Pacific Islanders to work on Australian farms.
The National Farmers’ Federation acknowledged backpackers needed better protection from “deplorable, sometimes illegal actions” in Australia, but argued banning working holiday makers was not the answer.
NFF president Fiona Simson said up to 80 per cent of the horticultural sector’s workforce was migrant labour.
Ms Simson dismissed the unions’ call as a “short-sighted, juvenile, headline grabbing stunt”.
“Farmers would always prefer to employ Australians,” she said on Tuesday.
“But the facts this gang of unions choose to ignore are that farmers simply cannot source the local workers they need and therefore rely on international workers to help put food on the shelves for all Australians.”