The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET) through the Labour Mobility Unit has taken claims of ill treatment in Australia farms very seriously and is continuously working to ensure the welfare and condition of Solomon Islands workers are upheld and their rights respected.
MFAET made this statement in response to a report by the Solomon Star published on the 24th April 2023 of growing concerns by some local seasonal workers in Australia over the treatment by their employers in wages and welfare.
MFAET said it is important to note that every Approved Employers (AE) under the Australian Labour Mobility scheme must meet very strict and high standards to be able to join the program, one of which is Employers must be financially capable of supporting workers and there must be a legal and fair renumeration system implemented by the Employer.
It said every AE must ensure that their employees or workers are paid within the legal renumeration frameworks and so workers cannot be paid less than the legal minimum wage in whatever industry or sector they are employed in.
It is also important to note that the LMU during its two days of Pre-departure briefing and during contract signings have always encouraged workers to report any issues of pay, wrongful deductions and other work or welfare concerns.
It said matters of concern will be taken up by the LMU with its partners in Australia and there should not be any fear from Solomon Islanders of being sacked or repatriated if their issues are raised.
The LMU, over the years, has supported workers who have reported similar incidents and the Australian Government through the DFAT, the Pacific Labour Facility and the Department of Employments and Work Relations has always supported the Solomon Islands Government in ensuring its workers’ concerns and issues are addressed.
The newspaper report also quotes local workers complaining over deductions for transportation, uniforms and insurance and accommodation, which is actually accurate, however it is very important for the public to understand that prior to worker’s departure, they were informed of all their deductions and what they must pay once in Australia.
Under the program, although there are deductions, workers are still able to earn a decent income every week, even in the first three months of their deduction periods. Although Other Employers have different deduction structures and timeframes generally, specific deductions should cease once workers have been able to repay costs such as Airfare, uniforms etc.
However, there are costs such as transportation, accommodation and health insurance which are ongoing as these are part of the costs to live in Australia.
The MFAET would like to unequivocally state that any reports of racism or inappropriate treatment to workers are dealt with very seriously and Australian employers have been reported to the Australian government in the past by the LMU and MFAET which has resulted in these employers being terminated from the program.
The report also highlighted an increase in the number of workers absconding due to pay and welfare issues.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade however said the issues highlighted are not only based on pay and welfare issues.
MFAET is noting a growing community of illegal overstayers in Australia who are enticing workers under the program to abscond, with the promise of better pay and salary.
Workers under the program are safeguarded by the law and have benefits that absconded workers will not have such as Superannuation, health insurance and the ability to travel between Solomon Islands and Australia.
Over the last Six months the Ministry has seen an increasing number of absconding workers requesting the LMU to re-join the program. This is possibly due to the fact that once they experienced life outside of the program, they realise they are better off in the program.
The LMU Policy does not allow for anyone to re-join the program once they abscond.
It has to be said that although the programs is a positive program for our people, sometimes there are people involved in the program who might not have the best interest of the program at heart and these are the people who we are encouraging our workers to report.
The Solomon Islands Government and the Australian Government can only respond to issues and support our workers if their concerns are raised with us.
All reports that imply any form of exploitation of our workers are dealt with very seriously by the MFAET and its partners, the Australian Government and currently we have systems in place that are monitoring the welfare of our workers in Australia.
Although there are challenges, the MFAET together with its partners are doing its best to ensure workers have a positive experience and are able to support their families and fulfil their goals.
Currently there is a regional meeting in Brisbane, Australia which all participating countries in the Scheme are attending and this is mainly to deliberate on issues relating to the Labour Mobility programs and how we can all work together to improve the scheme for both the workers and the employers.
The MFAET has a high-level delegation in attendance and it is hoped that once the meeting conclude at the end of the week, there will be positive outcomes for all concerned especially our workers.