The Power of Story
ACRATH wants to find out more about the day-to-day experiences and challenges of seasonal workers who come to Australia, in a bid to inform policy makers and to assist in the development of orientation resources. Importantly, the stories could help others avoid exploitation as they settle into their working life in Australia.
Each year thousands of workers leave their Pacific shores, many for the first time, and come to Australia to work. If they are exploited or abused their stories make headlines. But myriad cultural and legal differences between Australia and the Pacific Islands can also challenge many new arrivals.
ACRATH’s newest worker Sr Taabeia Ibouri sgs (pictured), from Kiribati, is part of the ACRATH/ACMRO (Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office) partnership established to provide support for seasonal workers from the Pacific and Timor Leste. She will be collecting stories from those workers currently in Australia and those who have returned to their countries. Sr Taabeia tells the story of her cousin, who is working on a farm in Australia, to illustrate some of the pitfalls for seasonal workers.
“One weekend my cousin and his fellow workers decided to collect some shellfish along the beach near where they were living in a regional area in NSW. After they had collected a lot of shellfish and were going home, a man in what looked like a uniform asked if they had a license to fish along this coastline,” Sr Taabeia said.
“My cousin and his friends were shocked at the question; they did not know anything about fishing licenses; they thought that the same rules would apply to collecting shellfish as applied at home in the Pacific – the shellfish were food that could be collected by anyone. My cousin phoned me to ask how he could learn the rules in Australia.”
Fortunately the officer showed compassion and after telling them about the license, let them take the shellfish home to eat.
Fr Peter O’Neill, who is ACRATH’s representative on the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Agriculture Committee, said there are many examples across the sector of gaps in information and education provided to the more than 26,000 (as at 31 July 2022) seasonal workers currently working in Australia.
“This story reminds me that seasonal workers need education not only on work, health and safety laws but a whole range of laws and practices. Workers coming from the Pacific love to go fishing so they need to be educated on laws regarding fishing licenses etc,” Peter said.
Fr Peter said gathering stories is important because they do have an impact on decision makers in government. Sadly, recent stories about serious car accidents involving seasonal workers led to the government ensuring more education about road rules, drink driving and the wearing of seat belts was provided to seasonal workers during their orientation. Fr Peter said some Catholic parishes are also supporting many seasonal worker communities and he encouraged parishioners to get to know new people in their communities in a bid to ‘welcome the stranger’.
You can find out what folks in Port Augusta are doing to help seasonal workers feel at home and develop local knowledge at: https://acrath.org.au/seasonal-worker-picnic/