Supporting Seasonal Workers
Congratulations to Fr Peter O’Neill following his appointment as ACRATH’s representative on the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) Advisory Group. While the position involves meetings and reviewing documents from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE), Peter will continue his work on the ground, meeting seasonal workers and finding out what issues concern them.
“I coordinate with ACRATH members who have direct contact with seasonal workers so I know what is happening on the ground and to share relevant information at the teleconferences,” Peter said. He has visited seasonal workers in Regional Victoria and accompanied Sr Janine Bliss (Qld ACRATH Coordinator) to visit seasonal workers in Bundaberg.
Peter, head of the Columban Fathers in Australia, hopes that during his two-year term some progress will be made on some of the challenges facing seasonal workers, including:
- Most seasonal workers are paid piece rate (paid for the amount picked, packed, pruned or made). The challenge is for the government to have regular inspections to ensure the workers are paid a piece rate that enables them to earn no less than the minimum wage, and to ensure their working conditions are safe and hygienic. This year the government has employed 19 Pacific Labour Mobility Officers. Is this number sufficient to cover the whole of Australia?
- Some seasonal workers are choosing to leave their place of employment due to lack of work and poor work conditions. They are vulnerable to being used by unapproved employers. After one month these workers are no longer covered by health insurance, which makes their situation even more precarious.
- Costs and conditions of accommodation.
Peter is hopeful of progress having served on an earlier iteration of the Advisory Group and contributing to some ‘wins’ for seasonal workers.
“When COVID hit, our teleconferences were spent discussing the impacts on the seasonal workers. Initially the government gave advice for seasonal workers to apply for a bridging visa when their current subclass 403 SWP visa is expiring. However, with sound advice coming from the unions and welfare and wellbeing representatives, the government took heed and decided that seasonal workers were eligible to apply for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) – Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) – COVID-19 Pandemic visa.
While the Advisory group works with key stakeholders and policy makers, Peter believes there is a role for ACRATH supporters.
“Our readers are invited to welcome the seasonal workers into their communities and to listen to their stories. If they have any concerns regarding the health and wellbeing of any workers they can call ACRATH for advice and assistance,” Peter said.
This article was published in ACRATH’s April 2021 Newsletter. Read the newsletter in full here.