Pacific Islanders workings in Australia under the Seasonal Workers Programme are unlikely to get another work visa if they leave their legally approved job.
Australian National University researcher Rochelle Bailey said leaving an employer was a breach of an SWP worker’s employment contract and visa conditions.
And she warned that illegal recruiters were lying to workers and misleading workers in an attempt to lure them way from their legal work employment.
Her comments follow a rise in workers absconding from their jobs in recent months.
Tonga has supplied almost half the SWP’s workers since it began in 2008.
According to Australian statistics, two thirds of SWP visas granted to Tongans were to return workers. Return workers are invited back because employees regard them as more productive.
Because of border closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of SWP workers have been trapped in Australia for months.
While many have been able to keep working, many face severely reduced hours and incomes.
Bailey said some workers were facing financial pressures because they were working as few as 10 hours a week, but still had to pay for deductions and wanted to send money home.
She said Australian farms were short of 26,000 workers as the harvesting season began. As Kaniva News reported yesterday this has led to calls from growers’ organisations for the government to allow more regional workers to be allowed to work.
However, it has also led to a situation where rogue operators were trying to lure legally approved workers away.
These labour hire contractors were not Approved Employers under the SWP.
“Being offered increased hours in a much warmer climate such as Queensland is appealing,” Bailey said.
However, workers were not told about Covid-19 border restrictions and quarantine, or that leaving an employer is a breach of an SWP worker’s employment contract and visa conditions.
“Workers lured by rogue labour hire operators are not covered by the same protections that they are entitled to through an SWP Approved Employer. Employers operating outside the SWP do not have the same level of responsibilities and are not under the same scrutiny. “
Bailey said there had been a significant increase in the amount of misinformation given to workers about their employment and visa conditions, such as who they can work for, taxation information etc.
She acknowledged that some of this advice was given by well-meaning community members who did not understand the terms and conditions of the SWP and visa restrictions.
Workers who had let their visas lapse would follow any work opportunities they heard of, especially if they could be employed under the radar and undocumented.
An earlier investigation into worker exploitation by Australia’s workplace watchdog found some foreign workers on Australian farms were “bonded like slaves” to unscrupulous labour hire contractors.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail Inquiry reported that some workers were told they would not have their visa extension signed unless they see out the season with them.
It also found cases of workers being taken to their accommodation via ATMs and asked to provide money in advance for bond, transport and accommodation costs.