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#88daysaslave: backpackers share stories of farm work exploitation

October 8th, 2019 | | 88 days

Backpackers are sharing stories of slave-like conditions while picking produce on Australian farms under a working holiday program the government is hailing a success after a 20% spike in uptake last year.

Under the hashtag #88daysaslave on Instagram, backpackers are sharing images and stories of exploitation, including being paid as little as $4 an hour and working in unsafe and gruelling conditions.

a person that is standing in the grass: Thousands of social media posts by working holiday visa holders highlight the problems of exploitation in Australia’s agricultural sector.

Thousands of social media posts by working holiday visa holders highlight the problems of exploitation in Australia’s agricultural sector. While many of the posts are lighthearted, the more than 5,000 posts by visa holders also highlight rampant problems of exploitation in the agricultural sector that has seen reports of sexual abuse and underpayment of workers desperate to avoid deportation.

The 88 days refers to the time that first-year working holiday visa holders must work in regional areas to be eligible for a second-year visa.

Announcing the latest results of the program on Wednesday, the immigration minister, David Coleman, said that the expanded working holiday visa program was providing a vital workforce to the regions.

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“We know there are some jobs in regional Australia that aren’t being filled by Australian workers, and we are giving regional businesses the immigration settings to help them fill those roles.”

The government is preparing to expand the program to allow visa holders to stay for a third year if they carry out an additional six months specified work in regional areas during their second year.

“We expect the third year visa option will encourage even more travellers to spend more time working in regional Australia,” Coleman said.

The government is hailing the success of a Tourism Australia campaign that targeted overseas school leavers after 43,219 second-year visas were granted in 2018-19, up by more than 7,000 compared with the previous year.

The number of working holiday makers is expected to keep growing, with the government pursuing reciprocal visa agreements with 13 more countries, on top of the 44 already in place.

Labor criticised the government for talking up the program, saying serious problems in the sector still needed to be addressed, particularly given the plans for its expansion.

“The government is claiming victory when all they have really done is put a bandaid on,” Labor’s assistant shadow minister for immigration, Andrew Giles, said. “We are seeing no plan to prevent further exploitation.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman has raised concerns about worker exploitation on Australian farms, describing the conditions endured by foreign workers as “bonded like slaves” to labour hire contractors.

A report from the University of Adelaide has also found the 88-day requirement has encouraged exploitation by attaching a critical migration outcome to work performance.

Coleman said that the Department of Home Affairs was monitoring the program to ensure employers of working holiday makers were “doing the right thing”.

“Of course, the vast, vast majority of business do the right thing and create great opportunities for backpackers,” he said.

“Any criminal behaviour is, of course, treated extremely seriously and anyone who is breaking the law of Australia will be subject to very serious penalties.”

He said the government had given an extra $50m to the Fair Work Ombudsman, to assess and investigate issues in the sector and “take action where people are doing the wrong thing.”

Source: The Guardian

Sourced by Mike Barrow