During COVID-19, many of us have felt isolated from our friends and loved ones but spare a thought for our seasonal workers who have come from countries like Fiji, Tonga and other Pacific nations that have not been impacted by COVID-19 as much as we have here in Australia.
They have come to Australia for an opportunity and are now faced with an uncertain future. These individuals do not know when they might be able to go home, as their governments have restricted flights back to the Pacific Islands. While we may not have been able to physically see our friends and loved ones during COVID-19, they have only been a phone call or video chat away. The technological infrastructure in many Pacific countries means they are unable to simply “Facetime” their loved ones.
Some of these workers are now stuck in parts of Australia where there is no work on the farms. They have no income and get no income support from the Australian Government. In some cases, their employers are covering the costs of their accommodation. In other cases, the workers are expected to continue to pay inflated costs for accommodation and transport. Local churches are providing support in some locations to help these people at this difficult time.
There are other challenges associated with this uncertain future. The longer a seasonal worker stays in Australia, the more likely it is that they might become ill or require medical attention. They are not eligible for Medicare benefits, so will need to pay for private health insurance. Sometimes the insurance will not cover all the medical needs that arise.
The Federal Government, in their most recent communication, indicated that approved employers of seasonal workers must appoint a “Welfare and Wellbeing support person to provide assistance and support to seasonal workers … and that this person is located within a 300km radius of each placement”. While this is a positive step, the quality of the support given to workers by their employers varies. The welfare and well-being support staff employed by the employers are not required to have specific training about the culture of the people they are to support. In some cases, language barriers exist as well.
I call on the Australian Government to not only draw upon their sense of humanity in their dealings with these workers, but common sense. These seasonal workers are in Australia for an uncertain length of time through no fault of their own. As invited guests in Australia, it is our responsibility to look after them whilst they are in our country.