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Australian seasonal worker program under scrutiny again

Tasmania: Some 70 workers living in one house

Council officials have issued an emergency order to evacuate up to 70 residents from a five-bedroom house at Shearwater, east of Devonport. The Australian Workers Union said it was one of the worst cases of exploitation it had seen, claiming as many as 77 people -understood to be from Tonga- were living in "slum-like" conditions and each paying up to $130 a week in rent.

Following the evacuation, Mayor Peter Freshney said it was council's expectation that "there will be an immediate and long-lasting improvement in the way in which the Federal Government's Seasonal Worker Program is administered". The workers had been picking berries for horticulture giant Costa Group, which said "substandard accommodation" had been provided for up to 67 workers by a third-party labour supplier.

Costa Group has subsequently issued a breach-of-contract notice with the labour supplier and apologised to the workers.

Robert Flanagan, assistant secretary of the AWU in Tasmania, said problems with the Seasonal Worker Program went beyond this incident.


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