Published: 08 March 2017
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Orchard of rotten apples: foreign farm workers exploited

A summary of recent investigations

Investigations into the exploitation of migrant labour in the farming sector, including raids on farms, have been taking place around the country. The spotlight on these practices has been given renewed focus following the National Union of Worker’s test case against Corvino Farms in the Federal Court.

This is a brief guide to what’s been happening.

Taskforce Cadena

In 2015, the Federal Government established Taskforce Cadena – a specialist joint agency initiative between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). Its role is to target and disrupt the organisers of visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers across various high-risk industries.

Earlier this month, Australian Border Force (ABF) officers found 27 suspected illegal workers at a strawberry farm near Brisbane during a raid. The farm supplies strawberries to supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths. In conjunction with Queensland police, Taskforce Cadena is continuing to investigate the farm operator and various labour hire companies.

New South Wales citrus company Simfresh, another supplier of Coles and other major retailers is also undergoing investigation by the taskforce.

Australian Border Force raids Gippsland farm

Closer to home, Australia’s biggest asparagus producer, Vizzarri Farms in Koo Wee Rup, south-eastern Victoria was raided in early December last year. ABF officers, supported by the Australian Federal Police and the FWO found 61 foreign nationals working illegally for the Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Costo suppliers. 

Fruits of their Labour: Cutri Fruit Investigation

Published late last year, an undercover investigation of Cutri Fruit by the ABC’s 7:30 and Fairfax Media revealed the shocking reality of the international black-market labour trade.

Malaysian journalist, Saiful Hasam, infiltrated the Swan Hill stone fruit grower through one of the numerous labour hire contractors operating in the area.

Saiful experienced exploitation first-hand, receiving a dismal $30 for four days’ work after being short-changed and made to pay rent to live in a dilapidated farmhouse with a dozen other illegal foreign workers. This house, which often accommodates up to 25 workers, was found to be owned by Immuto Fleur Nominees Pty Ltd, a company controlled by Cutri Fruit.

The ABC and Fairfax Media have published video footage which allegedly shows one of Cutri Fruit’s senior managers saying to Saiful, "I can't employ you direct. You don't have the paper. You know what I mean? That's why we use the contractor because, I don't know, they dodgy it up."

Read the full story here.

A national, systemic issue

It is clear from the recent raids and investigations into Australian farms that exploitation of foreign workers is a widespread and systemic issue. 

This must continue to be investigated and those responsible, including the primary employers, labour hire companies, all the way up the supply chain to the supermarket giants at the top, must be held accountable.

These workers are some of our most vulnerable. Some of them may face significant consequences for themselves, such as deportation, when these cases are exposed. It is hoped that vulnerable workers who have been caught up in these operations are not adversely treated by the DIBP/ABF when they have already been treated so poorly.

Following the Victorian Inquiry into Labour Hire and Insecure Work, the Andrews government has said it will introduce a state-wide licensing scheme for labour-hire businesses. This may be a step in the right direction, but we will need a national solution for this nation-wide problem.

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