FARM WORK: The Seasonal Worker Program is widely used throughout the North Burnett region, among others, as a way of assisting farmers affected by labour shortages during the fruit-picking season.
FARM WORK: The Seasonal Worker Program is widely used throughout the North Burnett region, among others, as a way of assisting farmers affected by labour shortages during the fruit-picking season. Max Fleet BUN290813RUR1

Audits to protect workers

NORTH Burnett Regional Council wants to undertake an audit of worker accommodation before the beginning of citrus season.

Deputy Mayor Faye Whelan said the council hoped to get ahead of any bad press about the treatment of itinerant workers in the region.

"The North Burnett region recognises the importance of backpackers and Pacific seasonal workers to our horticultural industries and has always been keen to ensure that these people are safe and welcomed in our communities,” Cr Whelan said.

Mundubbera was named among the towns at the inquiry in Mildura into the Modern Slavery Act, which detailed substandard treatment and accommodation of Pacific seasonal workers.

Since then, employers and local governments have been hoping to either disprove the allegations or enforce change where problems exist.

Cr Whelan said workers and employers she has spoken to in Mundubbera were upset by the allegations.

"Audits of accommodation houses is not new in our region,” she said.

"QFES has done random inspections involving checks on premises to ascertain that they meet fire standards especially with the number of persons accommodated at any time.

"This has happened in earnest since the Childers backpackers fire.”

Inquiry into labourer mistreatment

NORTH Burnett Regional Council's audit into backpacker accommoda- tion follows claims of poor treatment in Mundubbera.

The Federal Government initiated an inquiry at the beginning of February last year into establishing a Modern Slavery Act.

Among the allegations prompting this were reports of seasonal Pacific workers on farms, including in Mundubbera, facing unfair treatment, poor accommodation and harsh conditions.

According to a Courier-Mail and Weekly Times investigation in December last year, 13 workers have died since 2009, with claims of extreme neglect as the principal cause.

This has led to calls to reform the Seasonal Worker Program.

At a parliamentary hearing in Mildura in October, Falepaini Maile, the president of the Tonga Australia Seasonal Workers Association, named Mundubbera, along with Bowen and Childers, among the Queensland towns where workers were treated poorly

"Workers were kept as slaves in isolation by restricting movements, forbidding visits to their relatives and friends and forbidding participation in local community activities,” Ms Maile said.


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