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Modern Slavery Continues

November 15, 2021

The Australian newspaper featured the story of Geoff Smith, a Bundaberg Christian missionary targeted by the Federal Government’s Border Force for helping desperate Pacific Islanders escape slave-like working conditions.

Geoff, who provides pastoral care for foreign workers trying to escape wage theft and mistreatment at the hands of abusive employers, now faces prosecution and even jail.

The government is happy to turn a blind eye to the rampant modern slavery occurring in our country on its watch.

While Border Force is set to come down hard on Geoff, it is missing in action when it comes to the real problem: the criminal syndicates operating in the Australian farm sector. And no action is taken by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which appears to have given up on the sector.

The AWU is seeing workers forced to labour for just a few dollars an hour, from sunup to sundown, and often forced to pay huge costs just to live in their employers’ substandard accommodation.

Just last week The Australian revealed how many employers, usually labour-hire companies, deduct up to two-thirds of workers’ pay for accommodation, transport, visas, and other items, even charging $14.20 a time for water coolers.

The AWU has uncovered a number of employers under the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program who offer terrible wages and conditions, and who threaten workers for accessing entitlements Australians take for granted, such as sick leave.

These dodgy employers and labour-hire companies often try to lure workers from the program with false promises of better wages. But when these fall through, these vulnerable people – guests in our country – have nowhere to go.

The Pacfiic Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker program were once regarded as the jewels in the crown of our migration system, where guest workers were paid well and looked after. And they are supposed to be the gold standard Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is using to model his new Ag Visa system on.

But over the past seven years the government has allowed them to become little more than a system of approved exploitation.

The Minister must act before it’s too late.

Before leaping to prosecute those who are simply trying to help, a good start would be to talk to these frightened workers, their representatives and community groups, and ask them about the appalling conditions that caused them to flee in the first place.

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