Wage debate needs to consider all workers

ONE of the constants in Australian political commentary (in fact, probably all around the globe) is the economy.

And a subset of that topic is wages.

The conversation around wages usually centres on how they are too high and we aren’t competitive when it comes to overseas workers and thus costs.

But one of the things businesses who outsource the making of their products to overseas companies don’t acknowledge is that the workers in those countries – many of who are on slave labour wages – aren’t buying their product or services.

However, they see no conflict in then selling their product or service to Australian consumers.

The fact is the last couple of Federal budgets have seen a loss of revenue in many areas.

And one of them is the anticipated growth in wages not eventuating.

Sure, there are a couple of unions who have been able to win some unbelievable conditions for their members.

But there are also plenty of professional workers out there who are paid way below what they should be getting – and not those professions which have enormous political clout.

The latest discussion on employment and wages has centred on the backpacker’s tax.

The tourism industry says if we tax backpackers too much they won’t come to Australia and that will affect tourism and thus the economy.

Really.

Please tell me how much backpackers actually add to the tourism industry.

Farmers say they need to use backpackers because Australian workers are too soft and don’t like doing hard work.

Really, again.

I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who told me in an interview people on unemployment benefits, if they are physically able, should be prepared to travel to where the work is.

“It doesn’t matter if it is at St George or Mildura,” he said.

“It is no good them sitting at Blacktown waiting for the mango tree to come to them.”

Which is all well and good, but there are some logistical problems that have to be tackled first.

Firstly, how do people get to these locations?

Secondly, what is the accommodation going to be like?

We don’t want to recreate the circumstances shown in the Australian classic movie The Shiralee.

Farmers have to be prepared to provide living quarters that contain, at least, toilet facilities, a shower, running water, kitchen facilities and a floor soft enough for people to be able to sleep in a swag.

And the enduring problem of the aged worker raises its ugly head again.

While some people over 50 might not be able to do hard manual labour, they can certainly drive harvesters, chaser bins and tractors and do tasks in a shearing shed or in preparing and packing harvested asparagus.

I tried to get some work at harvest time last year, but couldn’t get a nibble, and it was the same with fruit picking.

Most people I know are prepared to buy clean and green Australian produce.

But if money is tight then they are going to buy cheaper produce, usually from a supermarket, and of course people are going to shop on-line.

The fact is we are all in this together and what hurts one sector certainly has an effect on others.

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