Persuade Australian Government to regulate work visa scheme
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Tom Jackson and my daughter Mia were working under extreme duress in a highly charged and aggressive atmosphere at a hostel in Townsville when their lives were tragically cut short. The conditions which these youngsters are enduring in order to obtain a second year visa to stay in Australia are unacceptable. This seems to be ignored by the Australian authorities, but it is also - to date - largely unpublicised in Britain.
The problem seems to be that the farmwork is largely unregulated in terms of health and safety, and due diligence to workers. My daughter was working in cane fields in Queensland, the notorious domain of a variety of poisonous snakes and spiders, and had no health and safety induction.
The injustices towards these young travellers are many and varied across the industry. For example, in some instances young people are not allowed to drink adequate quantities of water while working, and can therefore end up hospitalised from heat exhaustion and sun stroke. Some pay exorbitant fees for unsanitary hostels, others meet injury and even death through inadequate training in the operation of the machinery they are employed to use. Snakes are an everyday threat in Australia generally: Mia had no induction in how to deal with a snake bite, and farms do not keep anti-venom on the premises. There are even cases of financial and sexual exploitation of young people in exchange for the signing off of visa documents.
- Prime Minister of Australia
An open letter to the Australian Government.
Further to the death of my daughter in a hostel near Townsville, it has come to my attention that there are many issues with the 2nd year visa application system in Australia.
While I am aware that there are some regulations which apply to the system, they seem to be largely disregarded and unenforced by the hostel owners and farmers themselves.
Consequently, in a majority of hostels injustices and dangerous conditions are rife. My daughter was working in a Queensland cane field - notorious for their snakes - and had had no health and safety induction or clarification of procedures regarding safe practices in this area.
Backpackers are contacting me on a daily basis with stories about perceived infringements of the laws regulating this system. Some are obliged to use dangerous machinery which they have no training for, and consequently injuries at work are frequent. They often report that they work long hours in 40 degree heat without adequate water supplies. Many of them are lured to work where there is none, and then charged exorbitant rates by hostel owners. Tom Jackson, the young man who attempted to save my daughter's life at the expense of his own, had his laptop and passport confiscated from him by one hostel because he was told he 'owed the hostel money' as he had been staying without being given the opportunity to work.
In addition, the accommodation facilities may be inadequate and poorly cleaned, with overcrowding, infestations and lack of adequate facilities, including means of contacting the outside world, being the norm.
The hostels are in remote locations with no entertainment provided, and I am told that huge numbers of youngsters turn to drugs and alcohol. This, and the competition for work, created an angry, febrile atmosphere at Home Hill which could have contributed to the circumstances of Mia and Tom's death, and I have to ask myself whether this was an accident waiting to happen.
I hope you will consider how effective regulation of this industry, coupled with frequent inspections and penalties for non-compliance can be implemented with a degree of urgency.
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