A number of Tongans in Australia who are there on that country’s Seasonal Worker Programme were part of 70 workers housed in a single home in Tasmania.
The property in which they were living in has been described as “slum-like” and their employer, Costa, “are taking advantage of vulnerable people for profit.”
Their treatment amounts to human rights abuse and Costa should face significant penalties for breaching its responsibilities, an Australian Alliance has said.
A report by The Australian Workers’ Union said The Retail Supply Chain Alliance is calling on the Federal Government to review its right to hire seasonal workers.
In its report the Union said: “The seasonal workers, who are mostly from Tonga, were being housed in a property just outside Port Sorell in Northern Tasmania and were paying $100 each a week in rent, amounting to over $7000 per week. Similar homes rent for around $600 a week.”
The Shearwater home was run as a Bed & Breakfast until it was sold in October 2018.
“What kind of employer allows their workers to live in slum-like conditions?” said Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU.
“These are people who were too afraid to speak up because they were scared of losing their jobs.”
“Employers like Costa are taking advantage of vulnerable people for profit and they deserve to face the full brunt of the law in this matter. Unfortunately, this is not a one off.”
“There is a systemic and endemic problem across our food supply chain affecting not just seasonal workers but many thousands of backpackers who are often working illegally and being chronically under-paid.
“That’s why we are determined to stamp it out by working together with responsible employers to protect workers and put a stop to visa exploitation,”
Gerard Dwyer, National Secretary of the SDA, added: “It’s hard to imagine 20 people living in one property, let alone more than 70 and charging them $100 a week, this is a disgrace and an abuse of human rights. We should all be ashamed that this is happening in Australia in 2020.
“Our farm workers undertake back breaking work to deliver incredible produce to our supermarkets. They deserve to be treated with respect and have a safe working and home environment while they are in Australia.
“I think Australian shoppers will be horrified to discover that the berries they eat every day come as a result of worker exploitation at its very worst level.”
Workers, who were working in two shifts, were having to hotbed due to the shortage of space and bunk beds. They were rescued after a tip off from neighbours who had complained about an overflowing septic tank on the four-acre property.
They have been moved to temporary accommodation nearby after being evicted by Latrobe Council.
A team from the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business is now in Tasmania to conduct an investigation into Costa, which produces the nationwide brand of Driscoll berries, and Owen Pacific, which manages labor hire for Costa.
Michael Kaine, National Secretary of the TWU, said: “We need Costa to stand up and take responsibility so this never happens again. These workers were employed under the Government’s Seasonal Workers Program which is meant to protect workers from overseas and ensure they are being paid the same rate as a worker from Australia and be housed in ‘reasonable conditions’.
“I’d challenge anyone to say that putting 70 plus people into just one house is reasonable. They were being treated worse than animals and Costa needs to be aware of how its workers are living and do thorough checks.
“Its negligence is just shocking. Our neighbours from the South Pacific would expect us to look after their citizens, not exploit them.”
-This story originally appeared on https://www.awu.net.au/