An undercover Malaysian journalist has uncovered abuses of migrant workers working on fruit farms in Victoria, Australia. Saiful Hasam, a reporter from Utusan Malaysia, spoke to victims on a farm in Swan Hill in northern Victoria, where they recounted how they had been lured abroad by promises of good jobs. Instead, they were “paid a pittance, kept in overcrowded homes with exorbitant rent and effectively trapped in debt bondage.”
The Guardian reports that Hasam posed as a fruit picker last year in order to cover this story:
“[Hasam] was paid $110 for 24 hours work over four days. About $80 went to pay rent in a small home he shared with 11 other workers, mostly from Malaysia. He was short-changed $10 by his contractor, leaving him with just $20.”
Hasam also believes that workers are not reporting the problem because they have been ‘brainwashed’ to think this is a religious test. “Based on my observations, they are being brainwashed using religion,” Hasam said. “The house leader always say, ‘OK, please be patient, this is your test, coming to Australia, and one fine day you will get enough money. This is normal for everybody, and even me myself go through this process.’”
Tania Chapman, the chairwoman of the industry body Citrus Australia, warned against blaming farmers and growers for the abuse. “We have unfortunately seen people abuse the 457 visa scheme only to the detriment of our country’s other growers that rely heavily on this type of labour,” Chapman said.
She says that growers pay fair wages to the businesses employing the fruit pickers, but that this middleman doesn’t always pay them the correct amount. She fears this makes the grower and Australians look like they are doing the wrong thing and using cheap imported labor.
Chapman called for greater education of labourers on their rights and responsibilities, as well as details of Australian immigration law.