Australian parents have been warned the fruit they pack into lunch boxes often comes from exploited workers.
Labor has come out swinging against the latest campaign to get Kiwis to work on Australian farms.
The campaign is targeting New Zealanders with slogans including “enjoy the fruits of your labour” and “pick your way to paradise”.
But Labor senator Kristina Keneally says the conditions that backpackers and temporary visa holders face on farms are far from paradise.
Senator Keneally said people were paid as little as $3 an hour, with shocking stories of sexual exploitation, physical abuse and stolen wages.
“Many Australian parents would be horrified to learn that the fruit they put in their kids’ lunchbox has been picked often by a 19-year old backpacker who is sexually exploited and having her wages stolen,” she said.
“It’s not paradise, Scott Morrison, and no advertising campaign is going to turn it into paradise.”
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham is hoping thousands of New Zealanders take up the invitation.
“Kiwis, where most states have got the borders open for quarantine-free travel, there is an obvious market where we hope that young people can choose to take a gap year, and take a punt on the fact they will be able to return back to New Zealand afterwards quarantine-free,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.
Senator Birmingham said recent revelations of worker exploitation did not help his campaign pitch, and urged Kiwis to speak up if they encountered unscrupulous farmers.
“If they encounter poor practice they should call it out, they should report it, and we will throw the book at people.”
There would ordinarily be about 135,000 working holiday makers in Australia at this time of year, but as a result of coronavirus, that is down to about 52,000.
The horticulture industry has warned it needs an extra 26,000 workers as soon as possible, or fruit and vegetables will be left to rot and the price of produce will soar.
The federal government is also promising to reimburse Australian workers thousands of dollars to relocate to regional areas to pick crops.
But the program has proven to be a spectacular flop so far, with only a couple of hundred people taking advantage of it.
Senator Birmingham is encouraging young Australians to take their gap year by travelling around the country.
He did not endorse Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s suggestion Australians were too lazy to get off the couch.
“I think the vast majority of Australians are very hard working but clearly we do need to encourage more to get out there and do some of these jobs,” Senator Birmingham said.
“There are jobs available in Australia right now. Yes people may need to relocate, and it’s not easy or possible for everybody, but for some it is and that’s why we’ve put incentives in place.”