Pacific Island workers exploited in Australia

March 14, 2017: More news reports of Pacific Island workers being exploited while working in Australia show the dangers of expanding temporary foreign workers in Australia without ensuring their rights at work are protected.

In the latest case, 145 workers from Vanuatu have been exploited while participating in the government’s Seasonal Workers Program. Deductions were taken out of their pay and when they decided to join the union they were threatened and pressured to quit. One worker said he was told "If you want to come back [to Australia], you have to leave the union.”

The Seasonal Worker Program is supposed to benefit both Australia’s fruit picking industry as well as Pacific Islanders, many of whom plan to work and send money back home. However, it is clear some employers are exploiting the scheme and the participating workers.

During PACER-plus negotiations there was a push from some island countries to include temporary worker arrangements as part of the trade agreement.

This latest news is an example of why movement of labour should never be included in trade agreements, which treat workers as commodities and cannot be changed.

Any labour arrangements should be separate agreements between governments which can protect vulnerable workers’ rights and allow for monitoring and improvement.