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Regional partnerships to support seasonal workers

Graphic: A seasonal worker on a cherry picker collecting fruit on an Australian farm

The Australian Human Rights Commission has convened a meeting of NHRIs, governments, embassies and civil society groups from across the Pacific.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has brought together national human rights institutions (NHRIs), government agencies, embassies and civil society groups from across the Pacific to tackle the human rights violations facing seasonal workers.

Each year, thousands of men and women from Pacific Island countries take up manual work, such as picking fruit, on farms in Australia and New Zealand.

However, a recent Australian government inquiry into modern forms of slavery found that some seasonal workers endured squalid living conditions and received little pay, with rogue labour hire contactors exploiting the system and those they had recruited.

Workers are often afraid to report abuses out of fear of being deported or black-listed. Language and culture can also a barrier, especially with access to information, which means that many often believe that their only choice is to do as they are told.

When the workers return home, they rarely report the abuses as few know their rights or which legal institutions to approach. Further, information about rights and obligations that they receive prior to their departure is often incomplete.

The Commission's workshop, held in Sydney from 23-24 April 2018, included representatives from Australia, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Samoa, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Using the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a starting point, the workshop explored:

  • The risks of forced labour, human trafficking, slavery and other forms of exploitation
  • Good practice approaches to capturing, recording and monitoring incidents
  • Effective and accessible complaint handling mechanisms
  • Supporting workers with information and advice pre-departure and post-arrival.

Participants also discussed ways to exchange information and strengthen their partnerships across the region to ensure that there are strong protections in place to protect the rights of seasonal workers.

The participating NHRIs – Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, Timor Leste and Tuvalu – agreed to stay in regular contact and raise issues as they arise.

Date: 26 April 2018

EU logo

The Commission's workshop was supported by a grant provided through the EU NHRI project, with a focus on building capacity in relation to business and human rights.

This project aims to strengthen the impact and effectiveness of NHRI in all parts of the globe by improving their capacity to promote and protect human rights.

Image credits

  1. A seasonal worker on a cherry picker collecting fruit on an Australian farm - Australian Government, Seasonal Worker Programme; Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/SWPAus/
  2. EU logo - European Union