Fruit, veggies and exploitation

JIM unit campaign postcardA Four Corners investigation earlier this year revealed that overseas workers are being trafficked to Australia and forced to work long hours for low pay.

The report revealed that some migrants worked up to 22 hours a day for as low as $4 an hour.

The main industries implicated in the labour exploitation schemes were construction, hospitality, and fresh food producers.

The migrants enter Australia legally on 417 working holiday visas, which were designed as a cultural exchange program. The visa allows migrant workers to travel and work for up to six months, performing low-skilled jobs such as fruit and vegetable picking.

However, the 417 visa system is open to exploitation by unscrupulous labour hire companies. Because these companies currently slip through the cracks and largely escape any government oversight, it means almost anyone can set themselves up and advertise for workers from overseas.

The Four Corners investigation found that some migrant workers from Asia and Europe were abused, harassed and assaulted at work.

“It felt like slave labour. It felt like we were going back in time,” one of the migrant workers said.

“It was crazy. The way we were being treated was inhumane.”

The nation’s biggest supermarket chains – Coles, Woolworths and Aldi – are sourcing some of their produce from suppliers who use exploited workers.

Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, said urgent reforms are needed.

“Some of these labour hire companies intimidate migrant workers to accept low pay and maintain physical control over them,” Dr Zirnsak said.

“These criminal enterprises steal workers’ wages, provide them with substandard accommodation for exorbitant fees and seek sexual favours.”

The JIM unit has created a petition asking Minister for Justice Michael Keenan to set up a licensing system for labour hire companies to put an end to exploitation. Please sign and share the petition and call for an end to labour exploitation.



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