Inside Australian horticulture's 'dark underbelly': The unseen workers propping up the industry

Mike* was excited to travel to Australia from his home country of Vanuatu to pick fruit during the harvest season under the federal government's Seasonal Worker Program. "I wanted to join the Seasonal Worker Program to work for my family, and to take some money home," he told 7.30. When Mike arrived at his first farm picking grapes, it wasn't what he expected. His wage was determined by the number of boxes he picked, and he wasn't earning enough to repay the cost of his visa and airfare – let alone send money home.

He moved to another farm picking blueberries, but he once again struggled to earn a decent wage after wet weather delayed the start of the picking season. "I didn't send anything home, because I had no money," he said. Eventually, he was approached by a rogue labor-hire contractor who promised him a lucrative job outside the confines of the government scheme, which requires employers to meet specific eligibility requirements to hire Pacific Islander and Timorese workers.

"The contractor said he can give me more hours, good accommodation, everything. So I made my decision to run away to go to a different employer," Mike said. But when he got there he was paid in cash, earning as little as $300 for six days' work, and sharing a room with five others in a house with no lighting. "When I got there and when I realized that everything is not true, I was very regretful," he said. Mike once again turned to the union and was able to reconnect with the Seasonal Worker Program. He has since returned to Vanuatu, and hopes to come back to Australia for next year's harvest, but said it was important for workers to know their rights.

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