Fijian workers claim maltreatment by Australian labour firm

Fijian farm labourers employed through the Australian government’s Seasonal Worker Programme have claimed slave-like employment conditions, including being underpaid, underfed, denied medical access and verbally abused.

Fri, 18 Dec 2015

Fijian farm labourers employed through the Australian government’s Seasonal Worker Programme have claimed slave-like employment conditions, including being underpaid, underfed, denied medical access and verbally abused. 

The programme is designed to enable agriculture, horticulture and tourism companies to hire extra seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands, through the provision of special work visas, when they are unable to get local labour. 

The Weekly Times reports the Fijians were casual employees of Queensland-based labour hire company PlantGrowPick, an approved Department of Employment seasonal worker employer.

Alleged mistreatment includes:

• Being paid as little as A$1.20 (57p) an hour despite being entitled to at least $21.61

• Denied medical access, despite paying $33 a week in compulsory medical insurance

• Underfed by the labour hire firm, which was required to feed them and docked wages to do so

• Unable to move freely in their community, which included visiting family

• Verbally abused by supervisors

• Refused work breaks

• Prohibited from attending church

Six workers recently walked off the job, claiming mistreatment, and were in the process of being sent back to Fiji by the labour hire company.

At the airport, they found out their so-called deportation was happening without government knowledge, as had been claimed. 

They are now in Melbourne seeking legal advice.

The case has been referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which has launched an investigation.

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