CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: The Australian Government does not tolerate the exploitation of workers. All workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme are protected by Australian workplace laws in the same manner that Australian workers are protected. Approved employers that breach these laws are liable for sanctions under the relevant legislative provisions, and will also face sanctions as a consequence of any agreements that they enter into with the Commonwealth for the Seasonal Worker Programme. Bruce, can I just say this: the vast majority of workers – and Ni-Vanuatu of course is the second largest cohort of workers that we have had under the Seasonal Worker Programme – but the vast majority of workers have had a positive experience working in Australia, and they have been able to send earnings back home to their families and to their communities. So we do not want this situation to cloud what has been a fairly successful programme.

BRUCE HILL: And yet we have had these periodic instances of exploitation, and in this case the Federal Circuit Court Judge, Justice Michael Jarrett, said he could hardly imagine a more egregious case of worker exploitation. Some of these workers were paid only $150 for six months’ work. Some were paid nothing. That is not a good look, is it? Is there anything that can be done to plug these gaps?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As I have said, in this particular instance, the appropriate action has been taken, and I understand that prior to the Federal Court there were the procedures that are available in relation to the Fair Work Ombudsmen and action that has been taken. As I said, all workers under The Seasonal Worker Programme are protected by Australian workplace laws, in the same manner as Australian workers. These companies will face consequences in relation to breaches of the law and also for breach of sanctions and face sanctions, potentially, in their agreement with the Commonwealth. This is an important programme for Australia, and the integrity of this programme needs to be maintained. Those people who do not comply with the regulations do not meet the qualifications, and [those] who breach the law in this circumstance will be dealt with appropriately.  

BRUCE HILL: If there are workers under the Seasonal Workers Scheme here in Australia who are being exploited – fear they are being exploited – sometimes if they raise their concerns with the person who brought them over, they are threatened. They are told ‘if you cause problems, I will go to the police, I will have you deported’, and they believe this. That is not the case – if they make a complaint, it will be treated very seriously, won’t it?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Absolutely, we have put in place a framework. As I said, there is a framework:  the Fair Work Ombudsmen investigative processes and, ultimately, the Federal Court. So the framework is in place, Bruce, to deal with these issues, and the framework has been in place and has dealt with issues. So, as I said, the integrity of the system is very important. It is a system that is administered through the Department of Employment. So this is within the responsibility of that department, but there is a framework that has been established, and it is important that employers who are part of the Seasonal Worker Programme have and comply with all their obligations at all times. This has been a programme that has been operating since 2012, and since then, we have had more than 14, 000 seasonal jobs in agriculture and accommodation, and have been filled with workers from nine of our Pacific Island Countries. And so it is important that workers are treated appropriately and that they have the same manner of protection as Australian workers.              

Media enquiries

  • Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555