TWO Solomon Islanders working on farms in Australia under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) Scheme are suing their employers for injuries sustained in the course of their duty.
Thomas Lency and Morris Tataiora both got injured while on duty last year. Since then, they have been put out of work while recovering from their injuries.
Their case is in the process of filing.
Lawyer representing the duo Garry Scott of Scott Kustom Law firm confirmed to this paper in an exclusive interview that he is filing a lawsuit against companies that employed them for dangerous work and health safety.
Mr. Scott said this is the first case of its kind involving Solomon Islands working under the PALM suing their employer over dangerous work and health safety.
The duo who joined PALM in Australia last year with high hopes of earning money to support their families have their dreams shuttered when they get injured.
Their only hopes depends on the court case against their former employer, who could possibly pay them compensation if they win their cases.
Mr. Lency, 27, from Manaoba in Malaita Province joined the PALM scheme in Australia in search for income to support his family back home just like any other Solomon Islanders who joined the scheme.
On 13 November 2022, Lency arrived in Australia where he joined 10 other boys from Solomon Islands to work on a banana farm, Fresh Yellow.
After joining Fresh Yellow for over a month, Lency slipped and fell off in the course of his duty and fractured his hand.
He told this paper in an exclusive interview that he was shouldering a bag of bananas after harvest, slipped over dead banana leaves, felled off and broke his right hand in the process as he was trying to prevent those bananas from being damaged.
He said the job he was doing should have been lifted by two people, to be done safely.
He said it was lucky for him that he acted quickly and threw away the knife that he was holding, otherwise the knife could further injure him.
Despite the pain and the broken hand, Lency continued to work because he feared resting from work and speaking out could get him fired.
Lency decided to go for medical treatment on 9 February this year where his fractured hand was operated and screwed.
But he received the surprise of his life after returning from the hand surgery when his supervisor told him that if he is sidelined from work for over four-six weeks, his work visa will be cancelled. Not a type of response that Lency is hoping to hear from his supervisor.
After the hand surgery, Lency is yet to resume work as he is still recovering.
Asked if the company had assisted him in any way with his medical needs, he said no.
Due to his current medical condition, Lency moved out from where he was accommodated and lived with his lawyer, Garry Scott while waiting for his lawsuit to be processed.
On the other hand, Morris Tataiora, who hailed from Parasi in Small Malaita joined the Sessional Work Scheme under Pacific HR last year 2022.
He then joined Mt Alma producers’ farm where they harvest melons and collect eggplant fruits as their daily task.
According to Morris, their boss usually picks them up for work in the morning and drops them off for lunch break every lunch time.
Morris said he fell off the back of the land cruiser during a lunch hour break when their boss picked them up for lunch.
He said the trailer of the land cruiser is full so some of them are sitting in a dangerous position heading for morning break.
He fell off when their supervisor (boss) sped off where he said he was lucky to survive the accident.
Morris was unconscious and could not feel a thing after he fell off the back of the land cruiser.
Morris was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and for two weeks he suffered a spinal shock and could not feel anything in his lower part of the body.
After being released from hospital, his supervisor moves him to work in a different work environment when he is yet to be fully recovered.
Just a day working in his new environment, Morris cannot move his neck around as he suffered from stiff neck.
Learning about Norris’s case, Garry Scoot stood up for Morris as his lawyer and took him out from his new working environment on medical grounds, and now he is living with Garry and his family.
Currently, they are residing with Garry who is married to a Solomon Islander woman, Mary Abana who also works for the Law firm.
This paper was informed of many Solomon Islanders who got injured while working in farms in Australia under the PALM. However, due to lack of knowledge on laws guiding laborers in Australia and language barrier, Solomon Islands workers were often afraid of speaking out for the fear that they might get fired.
Some Islanders were sent back from work due to injuries and could not do much about their cases because there is no lawyer to represent them when such an incident arises.
It was revealed that some farms are taking advantage of the fact that Solomon Islanders workers are shy to speak up when ill-treated.
The question of do the Australia farms really look after the health and safety of local Solomon Islanders working in farms in Australia emerged after Thomas Lency and Morris Tataiora shared their story with this paper.
This also raises the question: does the Solomon Islands government monitor Solomon Island workers who joined the Australia Sessional work Scheme to ensure they are protected from being abused while working on the farms?
Lency and Morris’ lawsuit against their former employers is the first of its kind and should they win their cases it will be an eye opener for Solomon Islands workers under the PALM.
BY WILSON SAENI
Solomon Star, Auki