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Seasonal worker scheme remains an unadmitted Australian failure

Seasonal workers from VanuatuPETER KRANZ

IT IS sad to see that the flawed seasonal worker program is still happening with a vengeance five years after I first reported it in PNG Attitude.

Now it's Queensland’s turn and the seasonal workers involved are from Vanuatu.

Some received no pay after several months work. Others are in debt to scammers, have been threatened with deportation and are forced to live in sub-standard conditions with little or no food.

The story of 22 men from Vanuatu is compelling not only because of the sheer brazen nature of their exploitation, which was described as "appalling" in a judgement by Federal Circuit Court Justice Michael Jarrett.

Significantly, the exploitation occurred as part of the Australian government's own program to bring seasonal workers from Pacific islands.

The scheme is supposed to fulfil the need for low-skilled labour in Australia's horticulture sector and to deliver aid in the form of employment to struggling Pacific nations. It's also supposed to be the nation's most exploitation proof.

But these men's treatment reinforces the fear that some had of the seasonal worker program that it would mimic the notorious practice of "blackbirding", in which up to 62,000 Pacific island’s people were forced into slavery in 19th-century Queensland.

"Most received no wages and while in Australia they had to endure appalling treatment by Mr Bani, who had received payment for the labour undertaken by the employees and payment from the Australian government pursuant to [the program]," Justice Jarrett found.

"This case concerns the serious exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers lured to Australia by false promises. Employees were at times deprived of the appropriate basic living standards expected in Australia."

The judge found it "difficult to imagine more egregious conduct" than that displayed by the chief offender, and warned of the potential to undermine confidence in the program.

In 2015 PNG Attitude reported on a World Bank finding that failure to curb the use of illegal labour was to blame for the limited uptake of Australia’s seasonal worker program.

The nationwide survey revealed that the program championed by foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, was failing to meet its objectives.

"It's an eye-opener for us to find those things," said the Bank's director for the Pacific Islands, PNG and Timor Leste, Franz Drees-Gross.

Minister Bishop said the SWP program "works very well" but conceded it could be improved.


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Bernard Corden

Dear Peter,

Louis Proyect and Ralph Nader have written some interesting articles on Counterpunch:

7-11, Domino Pizza, Aerocare are socially autistic mercenaries but a lot more ethical than Coca Cola, Nestle and any of the major pharmaceutical behemoths.

I have a copy of Phillip Knightley's book Suffer the Children, which exposed United Distillers, Distaval and the thalidomide scandal.

UD have since been gobbled up by Diageo but their handling of the victims and families was atrocious and pure corporate greed.

It is quite easy to understand why John Pilger displays such animosity towards the USA and many of its corporate gangsters.

Peter Kranz

There is an Australian Senate inquiry underway into modern-day slavery which has been given shocking details of the exploitation of pacific and Malasian workers.

Three Tongan workers have died and others are being forced to live and work gruelling hours in pitiful conditions on a Federal-Government-backed program, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

The inquiry heard that some labour-hire contractors were skimming close to $1 million every month off illegal Malaysian migrant workers.

And some contractors in the Sunraysia district of Victoria others in Bowen, Queensland are placing up to 15 workers in squalid homes and charging them up to $100 a week each, the hearing which is sitting in Mildura, Victoria, was told.

Labour contractors are getting away with blatant exploitation because employment and immigration authorities are not taking enough notice of the problems the inquiry, which is looking at establishing a Modern Slavery Act, heard. Contractors are alleged to be making $768,000 a month. We first reported this nearly five years ago after Rose's experience in Mildura. But it is more widespread than first thought,

Three Tongan workers have died and others are being forced to live and work gruelling hours in pitiful conditions on a Federal-Government-backed program, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

The inquiry heard that some labour-hire contractors were skimming close to $1 million every month off illegal Malaysian migrant workers.

Falepaini Maile, a Sydney-based schoolteacher and president of a Tongan support group formed early last year in response to a flood of complaints about the Government's Seasonal Workers Program in Queensland, was in tears as she addressed the hearing.

Ms Maile told of the appalling conditions of her countrymen endured in Bowen, Tully, Mundubbera and Childers in Queensland.

Ms Maile told how she helped pack the belongings of a 40-year-old Tongan man, Paulo Kivalu, who died at Bowen last year — one of three she said died from overwork, lack of food and medical care in the past 12 months.

Bernard Corden

Dear Peter, It is not off target at all.

The Australian government and especially the former foreign minister Alexander Downer in the Howard era did absolutely nothing during the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi.

When the US shouts jump Australia just replies, "How high".

Peter Kranz

This a bit off target, but it is noteworthy that the Australian government has said little about the plight of Rohingya refugees which are now being targeted for human trafficking and sexual exploitation by criminal organisations.

Bernard Corden

it is merely indentured servitude or peonage.

The 7-11, Domino Pizza and exploitation of migrant fruit pickers in the Bundaberg and Swan Hill regions is Dickensian.

Chloe Shorten is a senior executive with a major provider of contingent labour hire to the resources sector and its CEO is on the board of WHS Queensland.

The gig economy has polarized society and The Precariat by Guy Standing is worth reading:

Robin Lillicrapp

Is there any info emerging of the recent attendance of P.M. Turnbull at a conference (Solomons, I think) at which conversation was had re Pacific workers?

Philip Fitzpatrick

It seems that this scheme was set up to simply exploit overseas workers.

Curiously, a similar scheme in New Zealand works well.

Also curious is the fact that many PNGs work in Australia with exactly the same conditions and pay as everyone else. The chef at one of two hotels here in remote Tumby Bay is a Kiwai from Daru for instance.

The scheme needs to be scrapped in its present form.

Peter Kranz

The abuse of Pacific workers on Australian farms continues.

Escaping slavery in Cairns to land in danger in Mildura

"Paul" was lured to Cairns from Papua New Guinea, with the promise of a TAFE education and good work but was conned by a Far North Queensland banana farmer.

"I was working 6:00am to 6:00pm driving tractors and eating bread and cordial for breakfast and lunch, and boiled mince meat for dinner. I lived in the shed with a dog," he said.

He did not see a cent in pay and instead, when Paul asked the farmer for his pay, he was told it was being saved up to pay for the TAFE course.

After six months Paul discovered dozens of other foreign workers on the farm in the same trouble.

"I drove the tractor over to the other side of the farm to where I knew a Fijian worker was and he told me he'd been there seven years," he said.

Paul managed to escape and in June 2016 banana farmer Sona Singh Bhela of Cairns was jailed for three and a half years for a visa scam involving 43 Punjabi migrants.

But Paul's troubles were not over. He arrived in Mildura, western Victoria, to work on a dozen farms in the district.

Living in squalid, cramped conditions, his pay was less than a tenth of the legal wage.

"I was paid cash and I was left with only $60 to $70. We lived in bunks, four to a room," he said.

"They took our money, the contractors, to pay for fuel, pick up, food and (the farmer) gets all the rent. We are just left with $60.

"They threatened us too and said 'the cops are going to come [so] if you [don't] want to go back to PNG, you'd better show up and stay quiet'."

John K Kamasua

Peter, Australia is still considered by many Pacific Islanders as the best country to work in and even live.

Yet momentum on the seasonal workers scheme in PNG has slackened off. Not much of it is being talked about or reported. Or shall we say it has died a natural dead?

The concept is good and can work. Maybe more stringent measures need to be in place, and even closer examination and selection of the players in the sectors.

There could be other factors like the use of illegal labor that has affected the smooth flow of the scheme. As it is as a concept, I think it is still a very good concept if managed well.

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