Activism Against Exploitation

seasonal workers

ACRATH’s four-year battle for justice for 22 men from the Pacific, who were exploited on farms in Australia when they came to work as part of the Seasonal Worker Program, has resulted in the men receiving Act of Grace payments.

Judge Jarrett in the Brisbane federal circuit court in his 2017 judgement called the treatment of these workers on farms in Australia ‘egregious’. As a result of the multiple representations over several years, the Australian government agreed to offer the people exploited in Australia an Act of Grace; this was in recognition of the fact their wages and airfares were stolen from them by a labour hire company while they were on the Seasonal Worker Program, a program which forms part of Australian aid to the Pacific.  One requirement for the Act of Grace is that it needs to address a mistake in an Australian government program.

The years of advocacy have been a partnership with our ACRATH membership, with civil society colleagues, and at least 38 people in Parliament and departmental roles. This has of course brought the men the money they were owed, acknowledging stolen wages and airfares, but it has had two other significant effects. It has built ACRATH’s credibility in standing with the disempowered and staying the course, and it has raised the issue over and over again that forced labour needs to be addressed in the employment of seasonal migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation.

Last year ACRATH’s Executive Officer Christine Carolan summed up the determination of the team that has worked for years on this case: “We will stay with this until we get justice for these men.” And they did.

ACRATH is aware of the great pressure on the families when the 22 men failed to earn the wages they had banked on receiving and to repay bank loans to get them to Australia.

The United Nations 16 days of activism against gender-based violence begins on 25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10th December – Human Rights Day. It shines a spotlight on the many people exploited in labour around the world, including Australia.