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28 Mar 2017

Nick McKenzie, The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Australia: Pacific Islands seasonal farm workers allege slave-like conditions in Govt. aid programme; recruitment agent unlikely to pay fine or compensation

"Slavery claims as seasonal workers from Vanuatu paid nothing for months' work"

...The story of these 22 men from Vanuatu is compelling not only because...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...

Aru and his fellow workers were, in the words of Justice Jarrett, "rescued" in September by the South Sea Islander Association..."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 SWP],..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 Bani, and warned of its potential to undermine confidence in the SWP...

...Justice Jarrett warned Bani would more than likely "continue to ignore industrial laws". One of Bani's companies, Pacific Crop Harvesting, is still running a website which spruiks its ability to supply contract farm labour at "minimum costs, maximum rewards"...The Fair Work Ombudsman, which prosecuted Bani after several workers complained, said the case revealed "harrowing" exploitation....

(photo credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)