Many seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands have been welcomed by Australian growers, desperate to find labor during the pandemic. In the last 18 months, some 12,000 workers have come into Australia from countries such as Vanuatu and Samoa.
But not all have stayed in the jobs they were contracted to do. Sources say more than 1,000 of these workers have absconded, many having been poached by labor hire companies that are not licensed to do so.
Richard Shannon from Growcom said across Australia, farmers were reporting seasonal workers suddenly leaving their jobs.
Executive officer of Approved Employers of Australia (AAE), Steve Burdette, believed many of the damning stories about seasonal workers being underpaid and exploited in Australia stem from dodgy labor hire companies luring workers away from approved employers.
"These workers are going from approved accommodation, a very transparent payment system and other contracts in place, to a system where they get cash under the table, they have no health cover, there are no checks and balances," he said. "They get promised the world and taken to places, employed by people with no license, and [can be] exploited."
He said unlicensed companies were undermining the integrity of the entire Pacific Labor Scheme.