An investigation into the alleged exploitation of backpackers working as fruit pickers has been launched by the Federal Government.
Several complaints that a Victorian man was paying workers as little as 60 cents an hour and housing them in poor conditions were lodged with the Fair Work Ombudsman just prior to Christmas, according to the ABC. The man from Mildura is also accused of bullying and sexual harassment.
“The suggestion’s been put to us that backpackers are being charged up to $150 a week, with reportedly up to 32 people being accommodated in one home and a dozen or so more sleeping in the garage,” Craig Bildstein, a director with the ombudsman’s office said.
Mr Bildstein confirmed to the ABC that it was not the first time complaints about the Mildura operator had been lodged with the ombudsman.
“The allegations that have been put to us include bullying, sexual harassment and ripping them off to the tune of hundreds of dollars,” he said.
“Some of these matters are obviously outside our jurisdiction, but clearly where we identify these matters we do pass them on the appropriate local authorities [and] that might be the police.”
The man allegedly charged workers, who are commonly young backpackers on working-holiday visas, a $450 fee to find them a fruit picking job as well as the weekly board.
Speaking for the Australian Workers Union, Ben Davis told the ABC that these types of labour-hire arrangements were becoming more common in the fruit picking industry and that the farmers themselves were not necessarily aware of the exploitation occurring against their workers.
“I think that’s the large part of the problem. The growers themselves don’t actually know what is happening at the point of payment to the employee,” he said.
IMAGE: Library photo (Daniel Zuckerkandel via Shutterstock.com)