THERE are growing concerns amongst some Solomon Islands seasonal workers in Australia about their treatment by their employers in terms of their wages and welfare.
As such, they are calling on the Solomon Islands Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET) to take up this issue with the Australian Government for discussion with their employers.
There have been reports over the past four years claiming that many Solomon Islands seasonal workers in Australia have been absconding work due to payment and welfare issues and the problem remains unresolved up until now.
A Solomon Islands former seasonal worker said this is not a new thing as it is a continued practice since Solomon Islanders joined the Labour Mobility Scheme and it is the contractor and the owner of the employer company that are to be blamed for not addressing the issue.
Speaking to Solomon Star last week, the former seasonal worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that there is so much going on in especially in the farms in Australia in the way seasonal workers are treated.
He said it will always be tough for new seasonal workers to just to such harsh environment, especially with the ongoing practice by certain employers making deductions from their employees’ salaries for a three month (12 week) period to refund the money they paid for their airfares.
“In some cases, some companies in Australia take advantage of their meeting of workers airfares to make them work without properly renumerating them.
“Workers become powerless and don’t know how to report such issues because they are afraid of being sacked or repatriated.
He said some employers even make deductions from their workers’ salaries for transportation, uniforms, insurance and even for accommodating them on the farms they work and other costs, leaving the poor employees with not much money to send back to their families.
“And of course, there is also racism in few companies in Australia. How can these workers be able to save money, send back money to their families whilst demands are high.
“Besides all the good stories of some seasonal workers that were published in the media. Stories of seasonal workers being able to build a new house, buy a new car and do other sorts of things. There are many sad stories that workers have to keep silent about out of fear,’’ he added.
One local businessman and a longtime activist said this issue is a reality for some seasonal workers in Australia.
The businessman who also spoke on the condition of anonymity said the Solomon Islands Government and other responsible authorities need to look into the matter urgently.
“I suggest that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade deal with the matter or else set up a private taskforce of something like a State Owned Enterprises (SOE) to look after the entire Solomon Islands seasonal workforce issues.
“This means the taskforce will have to deal with reports relating to workers’ salaries and welfare issues. This can be done at the low level before reaching another stage where the matter can be taken to court and our government is aware of it due to the existence of a setup that fully monitors the welfare of our workers and proportionally deals with them,’’ the local activist and businessman said.
He added that, “if this kind setup is established, it can address the issue of absconding by our local workers or contracts of the company can be terminated in the years to come.
“However, everything revolves around money. Corruption comes in any form and it can show where the gap or the weakness is that we are facing.
“The Government, Agents, Contractors and Company Owners must be transparent when recruiting workers overseas.
“But one thing we must also remember is that when we enter a foreign land, we must abide by its laws and nothing less. We have our embassy there but a strong link and connection must be molded in dealing with our seasonal workers and addressing issues concerning their welfare,’’ he further added.
It is reported that very few companies in the past years have their contracts terminated by the Solomon Island Government (SIG) in relation to this very issue.
By ULUTAH GINA
Solomon Star, Honiara