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I visited Wagga Wagga yesterday and what started as a weekend day trip turned into an informal investigation into how the Pacific Labour Scheme works in practice. An important (and long) thread that I feel I need to share. #polytwitter #modernslavery
The Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) is designed to help meet domestic labour shortages in rural and regional Australia. PLS representation in the meat industry is spread across five states, with the majority of workers in New South Wales (44 per cent)…
The first group of Pacific workers in Wagga Wagga commenced on the 14 August 2019 and were recruited by a QLD based labour hire company, Regional Workforce Management, in a number of Meatwork facilities for a contract period of three years.…
The Pacific Labour Facility (PLF) supports the administration of the Scheme and connects
Australian employers with Pacific workers. It is also responsible for The Worker Welfare Team which was set up to safeguard the safety and well-being of workers
"Our staff provide ongoing care for workers before, during and after their time in Australia. We meet people off the plane, help them settle into their new home, provide ongoing advice and support, and then help them settle when they return home."…
At present I am told there are 60 Samoans and 40 Fijians working in meatwork facilities in Wagga Wagga. I spoke to several of them to about their experiences and the reality of the programs "Built-in protection against exploitation"
Most of the men I spoke to said that prior to departure they had a videolink with the labour sending unit and PLF. Most men stated that they were provided estimated costs for accommodation, living expenses and health insurance, all of which were GROSSLY understated.
What about their experience of arriving in Australia? For many their first time outside of Samoa or Fiji.

"Upon arrival in Australia, the worker will be met by either the PLF Worker Welfare Team or the Approved Employer. The worker will be taken to their place of employment."
A group of the men I spoke to said NO ONE met them at Sydney Airport (though PLF had said it would). Luckily one of them had a sufficient level of English to find the connecting flight to Wagga Wagga. Once they arrived in Wagga they had to contact other workers to arrange pick up
So what about accommodation?

"Workers’ accommodation will be organised by the Approved Employer or with assistance from the Worker Welfare Team prior to arrival in Australia... Rent can be paid as a wage deduction"
Nothing seemed amiss. I checked payslips and saw deductions which seemed reasonable for 5/6 bedroom homes. Then I saw a $20 per week deduction for 'furniture'. The men explained the home was furnished so they paid this extra amount but this didn't cover repairs or replacement.
They essentially owned the furniture via aftepay. So over the three years 6 men would together pay $18,720. I visited one of the houses and did I find $18,720 in furniture there? HELL NO! I asked to see their rental agreements to investigate this further. Rental agreement?
According to the PLS Policy Handbook 2019 "Prospective
workers are to be provided with a Letter of Offer which must include employment terms and conditions, taxation, superannuation and other obligations, entitlements and
deductions." - NO ONE HAD BEEN GIVEN A COPY!
What was the welfare team doing? The men had been provided a contact, someone who looked after their pastoral care. He wasn't helpful and annoyed when they called him (if he responded at all). What he was good at though was encouraging men to dob in anyone who drank alcohol.
Alcohol? The subclass 403 visa has a condition on it (8303) which stipulates workers can not take part in disruptive behaviour. Fair enough - but to be threatened for drinking on weekends in their own leisure time? Not sure that is equitable treatment to Australian workers.
Ok so getting to the work. Since the PLS the men tell me that productivity has lifted at least 50% thanks to them. Beef Central seems to confirm that Wagga is doing really well thanks in part due to "stronger processor competition."…
The downside of being so good at what they do is that opportunities for overtime and Sunday work are no longer available. Are they being paid correctly? I compared payslips with Industry awards and confirmed they are but, and there is always a but...
The men tell me they are not allowed to take toilet breaks outside of their break times. Further, if someone wants to take a sick day they are required to come in first to be assessed by a nurse.
And on the topic of sickness. All the men are required by by their visa conditions to have health insurance and are covered by BUPA (no choice in the matter). So if they want to see a GP and avoid exorbitant costs they see a BUPA-friendly doctor. Where is the closest one? Yass!
Yass is 182km from Wagga! It's no wonder they tell me no matter how sick they are they all still go to work.

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