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Vanuatu is the biggest provider of seasonal workers to Australia at the moment, but the issue of some of its workers absconding from the official Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) has come to light again.
Last week, Vanuatu's High Commissioner claimed that some of its workers faced death threats after becoming embroiled in a bitter employment dispute in regional Queensland.
High Commissioner Samson Fare took to social media to complain about the treatment of ni-Vanuatu workers in the town of Bundaberg.
“This week I urgently came to see 51 of our valuable SWP workers in Bundaberg QLD that got sacked by [their] employer,” he said on Twitter.
“They have lots of issues & some very serious, e.g. death threat. This has to be fixed immediately.”
The ABC has contacted the High Commissioner to ask for more information, but he would not say who had allegedly made a death threat, saying he was focussed on finding the best solution for the workers.
“I am still busy with our workers and various pastoral issues that should have been addressed by the [Australian] Department of Education, Skills and Employment,” he said.
However, the ABC has been told some of the men had previously abandoned the workplace which legally employed them under the SWP, and had started working illegally for a second regional employer which had promised better pay.
It's alleged the workers quickly grew unhappy with their new situation, complaining that they were overcharged for poor quality accommodation and were earning less than hoped.
Labour migration specialist, Dr Rochelle-Lee Bailey from the Australian National University told Pacific Beat that the number of Pacific workers absconding has “increased exponentially” since COVID-19 began.
She said the issue is "more complex than just one reason" but that according to her research, most workers who absconded in the early stages of the global pandemic did so because of a lack of hours and money.
“In August last year until now, workers are being lured by rogue agents, employers and labour hire companies, with the promise of higher wages, reduced or little deductions.
“They do that under the premise of being an affiliate with an SWP employer,” she said.
Dr Bailey also said that some community members who are trying to help are unknowingly supporting Pacific workers to abscond because they are not aware of their visa requirements.
“That leads them to various job prospects elsewhere. Sometimes this [is done] intentionally, and other times, unknowingly breaking their visa conditions,” she said.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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