The President of the Assembly and the North Queensland Presbytery came in to fierce agreement regarding the way the guest worker programme is being managed in North Queensland.
This is “just another issue” for many people who take the plentiful supply of fresh fruit and veges to our supermarkets for granted. But someone has to cut and pick that stuff. And all to often, now it is people who are not employed directly by the grower, but someone who his employed by a labour hire company. In centres like Bundaberg, Bowen, Cooktown, Emerald, the Burnett, the Lockyer. This work is increasingly being done by people who come from the Pacific Islands on a guest worker visa.
The concerns from the communities who know – islander communities in Queensland, churches in the relevant localities – is that these guest workers are being exploited and neglected. The examples from the localities is that these workers are being charged exorbitant costs for food and rent by the labour hire companies, and the terms and conditions of their employment are onerous and unfair. There are too many examples of death and serious injury for the authorities to continue to ignore.
For those who know history, this sounds eerily like the treatment of south sea islanders in the late 19th – early 20th century in Queensland.
Many foreign workers are also being left to their own devices in a community and culture which is foreign – so alcohol and gambling become traps for them, and too many go home with nothing to show for their labours. Children born in Australia to women who are a part of the programme are born as stateless people.
This issue has become a significant one for the Queensland Community Alliance, of which the Synod, and some presbyteries and congregations are members. Representations by the alliance to the State Government has won commitments to send industrial workforce inspectors to work in this space. Why the alliance has to make representations for that to happen is a real underlying question.
It is to us in our communities to build effective relationships with other like minded people, – farmers, responsible employers, community leaders – to offer practical support, to call our parliamentary representatives to attend to these issues, and to keep them accountable.