Australia says Samoan workers protected

The Australian Government has assured seasonal workers are safe and will be afforded legal protections after an expose found instances of Samoan labourers' apparent exploitation including eight people living in a four-bedroom house.

An Australian Broadcasting Corporation (A.B.C) report showed the poor living conditions of Samoans and other Pacific nationals in regional Australia under that country’s Pacific Labour Scheme.

In a statement, a spokeswoman from the Australian High Commission said: “The Australian Government takes the welfare of Pacific workers extremely seriously, and workers in Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme are protected by the same workplace and work health and safety laws as Australian workers.”

“We have introduced stepped up welfare measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, including weekly telephone calls with worker team leaders at this site. No concerns were raised during these checks, and we are discussing these matters further with the workers, their employer and real estate agents.

“Workers in Inverell were yesterday (11 June) offered assistance to return home if they wish to do so, when conditions allow, and all have advised they wish to stay and remain working.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman is commencing an investigation into the allegations raised in the media yesterday. We encourage any Pacific worker with concerns to raise them with the Pacific Labour Facility Worker Welfare Team, the Fair Work Ombudsman or other relevant authorities for further investigation.”

The report by A.B.C cited the example of Andrew Suitupe who paid AUD$150 to sleep on a couch in a share-house in regional Australia, a rate massively above-market prices.

The men were brought to Australia by labour-hire company Meat Processors.

A total of nine workers revealed their exploitation to the A.B.C many anonymously for fear of repercussions.

According to A.B.C the $150 each member of the group pays every week is nearly a quarter of their wage with the weekly rent being $1,350.

The four-bedroom house that the nine Samoans stay in only has one bathroom and one of the Samoans, David Tusa had spoken on behalf of the group stating, “Nine people to a house, and two sharing each room, one bathroom and one toilet, I don’t think it’s fair.”

"It's nine of us here, and we're all paying $150 a week, each."

The median rent for a four-bedroom house in Inverell is $430 according to advertisements cited by the A.B.C.

"We are paying too much," Mr. Tusa said.

Workers under the Pacific Labour Scheme can stay for up to three years and is run by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia.

About 12,000 workers came to Australia from Pacific nations in 2019 — most on the much larger Seasonal Worker Programme.

About 1,000 workers are currently in Australia on the Pacific Labour Scheme, according to Government statistics cited by the ABC.

Meat Processors told the A.B.C that the houses it rented for the workers did not surpass approved occupancy and included deductions for furnishing and utilities.

Mr. Suitupe said the three years away from his family under the scheme, now seeming inevitable with closed borders, was time he regretted spending.

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