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Backpackers visiting Bundaberg underpaid, exploited: report

AIN'T ALL BAD: Backpackers like Alice Arzenton, Irene Brussa and Jasmine Piller are thrilled to have found somewhere like Robertson Flower Farm in Bundaberg that treats them well.Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail
AIN'T ALL BAD: Backpackers like Alice Arzenton, Irene Brussa and Jasmine Piller are thrilled to have found somewhere like Robertson Flower Farm in Bundaberg that treats them well.Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail Max Fleet BUN120515RFF10

BACKPACKERS visiting Bundaberg are being ripped off and exploited by unscrupulous employers with many not complaining in fear of a backlash from their bosses.

A new report has found almost $200,000 in unpaid wages and entitlements was recovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman for 103 workers in the Wide Bay region in 2015-16.

This figure is down slightly from the comparative period the year before with $203,088 recovered from 117 workers in 2014-15.

In comparison, a total $4,591,759 was recovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman across Queensland for 1997 workers in 2015/16.

East Bundy Backpackers.
East Bundy Backpackers. Mike Knott BUN060416BACKPACKERS2

As part of the Inquiry a survey of more than 4000 overseas workers, who had been granted a second-year 417 visa, found some of them were being sexually harassed, and some were not being paid for their work at all.

Withholding passports, paying for tools the business was supposed to provide, and working for free in exchange for providing evidence that they had fulfilled their visa requirements, were among the findings.

Asian backpackers were particularly vulnerable as they did not understand their work rights.

About 38% of those surveyed felt positive about their working experience.

BACKPACKER TAX: Visa workers could be deterred from picking in places like Tinaberries farm in Bundaberg.
BACKPACKER TAX: Visa workers could be deterred from picking in places like Tinaberries farm in Bundaberg. Paul Donaldson BUN050916TAX8

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the survey confirmed that overseas workers seeking regional work to satisfy the 88 day requirement and obtain a second-year 417 visa are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

"In particular, the desire for a second-year 417 visa can drive vulnerable workers to agree to work for below minimum entitlements and in some circumstances, enter into potentially unsafe situations,” Ms James said.

"The Inquiry findings show that while many 417 visa-holders who work in Australia have a positive experience, many are being subjected to underpayment or non-payment, unlawful deductions, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and other forms of exploitation.

"The backpacker labour-force is vital to some industries associated with food production in regional areas but we are at risk of it being a black-market, exploited labour-force if the settings remain the same.”

Noting recent changes in the landscape to tax arrangements and the establishment of the Government's Migrant Worker Taskforce, the report recommends changes to visa rules and laws, better use of existing laws and an enhanced and more joined-up effort across government to ensure 417 visa holders are better protected and more aware of their work rights.

The report also recommends that academics and migration experts be enlisted to help research and solve labour-force issues associated with the need to balance cultural exchange, Australia's international reputation, regional labour-supply needs and the vulnerability of 417 visa-holders.

Members of the Fair Work Ombudsman's specialised Overseas Workers' Team were part of a fly-in squad which visited Bundaberg in June this year to check seasonal workers at fruit and vegetable operations in the area were being paid correct wages and entitlements.

Topics:  backpacker backpackers bundaberg fair work ombudsman overseas workers


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