seasonal workers allege exploitation

seasonal workers allege exploitation

Thursday: government-run program faces scrutiny after the deaths of 10 workers in five years. Plus, Trump proposes to cut US immigration by half
Seasonal workers prune citrus trees on a farm near Childers in Queensland. Photograph: Ben Doherty for the Guardian

Eleanor Ainge Roy


Good morning, this is Eleanor Ainge Roy bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 3 August.

Australia’s government-run seasonal worker program, which brings workers from nine Pacific countries and Timor-Leste to Australia to work, bonded to an employer, for up to nine months is facing scrutiny after the deaths of 10 workers in the past five years, as well as a string of damning court judgments, parliamentary inquiries and media exposés. A Senate inquiry heard evidence that “indicates the exploitation of workers participating in the seasonal worker program is common”, but workers were “generally disinclined to complain about improper treatment for fear it will adversely impact on their potential earnings”.

In a report to parliament the Salvation Army has attested to some workers being treated inhumanely: “During the day … just eating the fruit that they are picking and are reliant on our church volunteers who in some instances are doing food drops every week. The workers are essentially eating mandarins, bread and rice and not much else.” The Guardian spoke with more than 15 seasonal workers who have laboured across dozens of farms for various employers. One Timorese worker said: “What is in the contract, what we were told we would receive, we never did. The hours, the payment, the accommodation, the contract was false … We are all human. The only difference is the colour of our skin, but our dignity is the same, our rights should be the same.”

Donald Trump has proposed a new law to cut immigration numbers by half in 10 years and prioritise those who can speak English or are well-educated. The proposed legislation would also cap the number of refugees admitted to the US every year at 50,000 and eliminate the diversity visa lottery. Trump hailed the bill as a “merit-based immigration system” and “legislation that would represent the most significant reform to our immigration system in a half century”. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent critic of Trump, denounced the proposed reduction in legal immigration which he said would “be devastating to [South Carolina’s] economy, which relies on this immigrant workforce”.

Australia has a critical shortage of climate scientists, leaving it at serious risk of not delivering essential climate and weather services to farmers, coastal communities and international organisations. A report by the Australian Academy of Science found the climate science workforce needed to grow by 77 full-time positions over the next four years, with 27 of those urgently required. The figures take into account all the climate scientists at the CSIRO, the new CSIRO climate science centre to be established in Hobart, as well as those at the Bureau of Meteorology, universities and other institutions. But it didn’t consider extra resources that might be needed in the study of climate change mitigation or adaptation.

The US warned Australia 17 years ago that a toxic chemical it was using at defence bases, fire stations and airports risked “severe long-term consequences” to human health and the environment. An email obtained by Guardian Australia shows the Environmental Protection Agency urged a “rapid phase-out” of chemical, perfluorooctane sulfonate (Pfos) in 2000. Defence continued to use it in its firefighting foam product for a further four years before starting a gradual process to remove it.

Deadly gene mutations have been removed from human embryos in a landmark study that remains shrouded in controversy. Scientists have modified human embryos to remove genetic mutations that cause heart failure in otherwise healthy young people; the first time that human embryos have had their genomes edited outside China. Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers describe how gene editing dramatically reduced the number of embryos that carried the dangerous mutation. When performed early enough, at the same time as fertilisation, 42 out of 58 embryos, or 72%, were found to be free of the disease-causing mutation.


Neymar is set to complete a world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain worth about $750m after telling Barcelona he is leaving. On a dramatic day the Brazil striker informed Barcelona of his desire to go. He had been due to return to training on Wednesday but was given permission by the coach, Ernesto Valverde, not to take part. Neymar’s new wages are understood to be about €30m a year after tax – equivalent to about £520,000 a week – almost doubling the player’s salary. On Instagram Lionel Messi said: “It was a great pleasure to have shared all these years with you, friend @neymarjr. I wish you good luck in this new stage of your life.”

The pay dispute that has threatened the Australian summer of cricket, including the Ashes series, is inching to a conclusion, with a Cricket Australia spokesperson saying on Wednesday that negotiations had advanced towards the “final details”. An agreement with the players’ union could be announced today.

This week our cartoonist David Squires pays tribute to the refugee and football broadcaster Les Murray who died this week aged 71.

Thinking time

That reindeer jumper … Photograph: Miramax/Everett/Rex
Elizabeth Day’s new novel is set at a party the perfect fictional backdrop, she argues, where the rules of normal behaviour are suspended for the night and, as the champagne flows, anything can happen. Here, she details her top 10 fictional parties. High on the list is the Meryton Ball, where Mr Darcy dismisses Elizabeth Bennet as “tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”. Jay Gatsby’s dizzy summer soirees are a favourite too, as is Geoffrey and Una Alconbury’s horrific New Year turkey curry buffet in Bridget Jones’ Diary, when yet another Mr Darcy wears an unfortunate reindeer jumper. Do pass the punch!

The creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 led to horrific sectarian violence and made millions refugees overnight, packing up their homes which had fallen on the wrong side of the new, inexplicable borders, for uncertain new homes built on religious divisions and colonial meddling. Seventy years on, five survivors remember the trauma of divided lives and identities.

Can making plasticine models of female sex organs and demonstrations using carrots and cucumbers really teach the finer points of sexual pleasure? A Saturday-night workshop in Sydney’s Bondi Pavilion gathered friends and strangers for two masterclasses in manual stimulation – or “interactive genital techniques”. The male stimuclass was run by Adam Seymour, who had a side job in New York of giving happy-ending massages to male executives to help pay the sky-high Manhattan rent. Nobody thinks of “sex education” as sexy, but perhaps campy, playful and completely clothed is a good place to start.

Media roundup

The Fairfax newspapers splash with an interesting read on soaring rates of credit card fraud, with transactions made using stolen card details hitting $417.6m in 2016 – more than double the rate of 2011. The Advertiser reveals there will be unprecedented security checks undertaken at this year’s Royal Adelaide Show in an attempt to protect the event’s half a million patrons from a possible terrorist attack.
It also has some cheery news for SA winemakers, with a South Australian, Paul Hotker named winemaker of the year in the annual James Halliday awards. He says Australians’ changing diets and move towards fresher, lighter food is changing their preferences for red wine, with Hotker noting a shift from oaky and heavy styles to more vibrant, fresher and medium-bodied varieties. And the ABC has a fun read about “ordinary Australians” – and the tiny town north-west of Brisbane which has the country’s highest percentage of residents matching at least 10 of the most common demographic characteristics.

Coming up

Chris Inglis, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, will address the National Press Club in Canberra in a speech titled What We (at the NSA) Learned from Snowden: The New Cyber Threat Environment, Politics and Civil Liberties.

The Melbourne International film festival begins at the Regent Theatre with an opening-night gala. It runs from 3-20 August.


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