Slicing and Dicing Work in the Australian Horticulture Industry: Labour Market Segmentation within the Temporary Migrant Workforce

Date01 June 2020
AuthorJoanna Howe,Diane van den Broek,Stephen Clibborn,Alex Reilly,Chris F Wright
Published date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
FLR905956 247..271 Article
Federal Law Review
2020, Vol. 48(2) 247–271
Slicing and Dicing Work in the
ª The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
Australian Horticulture Industry:
DOI: 10.1177/0067205X20905956
Labour Market Segmentation
within the Temporary
Migrant Workforce
Joanna Howe,* Alex Reilly,** Stephen Clibborn,***
Diane van den Broeky and Chris F Wrightz
This article exposes how disparity in the immigration rules of different visas combines with
poor enforcement of labour standards to produce a segmented labour market in the Aus-
tralian horticulture industry. We argue that the precarious work norms of the horticulture
industry result in a ‘demand’ on the part of employers for harvest workers to perform
precarious jobs. Such demand has been met by the workers supplied through different seg-
ments of temporary migrant labour who may be a particularly attractive form of precarious
labour because of the conditionalities they experience as a result of their visa class. Our
analysis demonstrates that not only do growers make preferences between local and tem-
porary migrant workers, but they also make preferences between different types of tempo-
rary migrant workers. In identifying segmentation between temporary migrant workers on
different visa categories, the article makes a significant contribution to the labour market
segmentation literature, which hitherto has focused on segmentation between migrant
workers and non-migrant workers.
I Introduction
This article exposes how disparity in the immigration rules of different visas combines with
poor enforcement of labour standards to produce a segmented labour market. Segmentation
results in different labour market outcomes for different groups of workers. This is
significant because it leads to ‘different opportunities and rewards to otherwise comparable
* Associate Professor, University of Adelaide. The author may be contacted at
** Professor, University of Adelaide. The author may be contacted at
*** Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney. The author may be contacted at
y Associate Professor, University of Sydney. The author may be contacted at
z Associate Professor, University of Sydney. The author may be contacted at

Federal Law Review 48(2)
[workers]’,1 distorting labour markets, ‘diverg[ing] considerably from the competitive norm’,2
resulting in noncompliance with employment laws for many, to the detriment of both workers
and employers.
Although there is a rich literature on segmentation arising from different elements,3 this article
focuses on one key driver identified as deepening labour market segmentation, which occurs when
temporary migrants are subject to different immigration rules. The extant literature examining this
phenomenon in Australia and internationally is limited to identifying segmentation between the
migrant and the citizen labour.4 This study goes beyond the dual labour markets paradigm and
examines multiple segments within temporary migrant workers on different types of visas. The
horticulture labour market in Australia is a highly relevant site for developing this focus because it
is replete with different types of visa workers subject to different immigration rules. There are
seasonal workers from the Pacific under the dedicated Temporary Work (International Relations)
(subclass 403) visa. These workers are employed through the Seasonal Worker Program (‘SWP’).
There are also Working Holiday Makers (‘WHMs’) under the Working Holiday (subclass 417) and
Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visas. International students who reside in Australia on one of a
range of study visas (subclasses 570–6) also make a contribution to the horticulture workforce.
In addition to migrants on visas with an entitlement to work, there is a large, but at present,
inadequately quantified number of migrants working in the industry without an entitlement to
work, collectively referred to as undocumented workers. These include
[m]igrants on visas without work rights such as tourists; migrants whose visas have expired; and
migrants with a valid visa with work rights, but who work in breach of a condition of their visa.
Additionally, although local workers are not the focus of the article, it is important to briefly note that
this growing significance of temporary migrants in the horticulture industry has coincided with a sharp
decline in the participation of local workers in low skilled horticulture work.5
1. Paul Ryan, ‘Segmentation, Duality and the Internal Labour Market’ in Frank Wilkinson (ed), The Dynamics of Labour
Market Segmentation (Academic Press, 1981) 3, 4.
2. Ibid.
3. For research into segmentation arising from gender and ethnicity, see, eg, Richard Wright and Mark Ellis, ‘The Ethnic
and Gender Division of Labor Compared Among Immigrants to Los Angeles’ (2000) 24(3) International Journal of
Urban and Regional Research 583. For research into segmentation on the basis of a ‘visible difference’ between groups
of workers, see Val Colic-Peisker and Farida Tilbury, ‘Integration into the Australian Labour Market: The Experience of
Three “Visibly Different” Groups of Recently Arrived Refugees’ (2007) 45(1) International Migration 59.
4. For research on segmentation internationally, see, eg, Harald Bauder, Labor Movement: How Migration Regulates
Labor Markets (Oxford University Press, 2006); Michael J Piore, Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial
Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1979); Roger Waldinger and Michael I Lichter, How the Other Half Works:
Immigration and the Social Organization of Labor (University of California Press, 2003). For research on segmentation
in Australia, see Christina Ho and Caroline Alcorso, ‘Migrants and Employment: Challenging the Success Story’ (2004)
40(3) Journal of Sociology 237; Constance Lever-Tracy and Michael Quinlan, A Divided Working Class: Ethnic
Segmentation and Industrial Conflict in Australia (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988).
5. Joanna Howe et al, Sustainable Solutions: The Future of Labour Supply in the Australian Vegetable Industry (Report,
Horticulture Innovation Australia, 1 February 2017). Similarly, a 2016 study conducted by the Australian Bureau of
Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences found that close to 70% of seasonal horticulture workers were visa
holders: Haydn Valle, Niki Millist and David Galeano, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and
Sciences, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Labour Force Survey (Research Report, May 2017) 9

Howe et al
Within the horticulture labour market, these different types of visa workers are typically
employed as harvest workers involved in the picking, packing and grading of fresh fruit and
vegetables. Applying the lens of labour market segmentation to the occupations of pickers, packers
and graders exposes how employers select temporary migrant workers according to visa class to
produce a distinct workforce with certain perceived attributes. The competition between visa
classes contributes to noncompliance with labour standards because the different regulatory archi-
tecture of different visas, and whether a worker has a documented or undocumented status, makes
some groups of visa workers more likely to accept wages and conditions which do not comply with
the law.
The Australian experience of noncompliance with labour standards in the employment of
harvest workers is not anomalous. There is a universal dimension to the challenge of addressing
the exploitation of temporary migrant workers in developed countries’ horticulture labour markets,
although in neither Canada,6 New Zealand,7 the United States8 nor Sweden9 is there segmentation
arising from so many different visa types as there is in Australia.
In Australia, a significant and growing body of evidence suggests that noncompliance with
labour standards is widespread in the horticulture industry. Growers and labour hire intermediaries
acting in their individual short-term interests have been found to underpay wages and otherwise
mistreat workers. The media has been a source of much information on noncompliance.10 There is
also significant evidence in academic research,11 parliamentary inquiries12 and publications from
6. ‘Hire a Temporary Worker through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program: Overview’, Government of Canada
(online), 18 September 2018 <
. See also Marie-H ´el `ene Budworth, Andrew Rose and Sara Mann,
Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture Delegation in Canada, Report on the Seasonal Agricultural
Worker Program (Report, March 2017) >.
7. Charlotte Elisabeth Bedford, Picking Winners? New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Policy and its
Impacts on Employers, Pacific Workers and Their Island-Based Communities (PhD Thesis, University of Adelaide,
March 2013); Richard Curtain et al, ‘Pacific Seasonal Workers: Learning from the Contrasting Temporary Migration
Outcomes in Australian and New Zealand Horticulture’ (2018) 5(3) Asia & The Pacific Policy Studies 462, 471.
8. Philip Martin, Immigration and Farm Labor: From Unauthorized to H-2A for Some?

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