Five ni-Vanuatu workers that are reported to have breached their contract by being lured to another farm in Australia’s most densely populated State of Victoria, risk being arrested by Australian Federal Police (AFP) and deported, now that their Australian visas have been cancelled and they are branded as illegal immigrants.
This is the last resort. Commissioner of Labour Lionel Kaluat is liaising with Vanuatu Police and AFP to locate them and send them back to Vanuatu.
“On the other hand, in Australia AFP cannot arrest a worker if he has not broken the law unless he has crossed the border to another State,” he says.
The latest worker who left his workplace last Saturday was Hencely Tiwor (Ambrym), while Haiton Brian (Port Vila), Harry John (Port Vila), George Steven (Tongoa) and Batick James (Malekula) slipped away last month.
The Commissioner says he has received information through the Team Leaders of the workers working for Kevin Khiev of Connect Group Pty. Ltd, that a Tongan allegedly contacted the most senior worker, a Paamese, who in turn convinced the first three workers to leave with him to follow the Tongan.
“The Tongan illegal recruiter allegedly promised them better pay on another farm,” the Commissioner said.
Khiev says worker Tiwor, based at CPA Packers in Tatura, Victoria, at Merrigum Caravan Park disappeared on March 11 in the morning.
Connect Group was notified by the team leaders of the group last Sunday afternoon and has been trying to find Hencely Tiwor “unsuccessfully”.
Khiev explained in his communication dated March 13, “It is our belief that he (Tiwor) has been assisted by one of the local contractors in the Kyabram Vic. area and may still be living and working locally. We are trying to find out the identity of this contractor and will on forward any information to the Departments as they come to light.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner of Labour Kaluat says the reason why he has called the Tongan “illegal recruiter” is that any recruitment that is done outside the system is automatically illegal. All five workers are returnees and know their way around.
The Tongan allegedly handed them over to another farmer who paid him and kept the workers.
“The problem is that the workers’ visas were valid according to the contracts they signed with their first employer and the moment they absconded, they automatically breached their contracts and the Australian Government simply cancelled their Australian visas,” says the Commissioner who adds, “unless of course, the farmer himself arranges for them to transfer to another farmer”.
One other risk is that if the farmer should pay them through the Tongan, nothing would stop him from pocketing their salaries and leaving them out in the cold in a foreign country.
This is understood to have already happened with a number of workers from Vanuatu who were reported to have been recruited by PNG National, Emmanuel Bani, who was later hunted by AFP after pocketing the workers’ salaries and leaving them without any money at all.
The Commissioner also looks at other concerns including the threat of human trafficking, drug trafficking and the question of their social welfare.
“If the farmer fails to pay them their promised wages then what is going to happen to their meals, their accommodation and their transport costs back to Vanuatu?
“When you choose to work for an employer that you do not know then these are the risks that I am concerned about,” he warns.
In addition he says the trend of absconding is normal among Samoan and Tongan workers but it cannot be allowed to escalate with seasonal workers from Vanuatu because already Vanuatu’s image as a respected, trustworthy sending country is at stake with the five workers.
The Commissioner promises they will be grounded permanently and not allowed to travel to work in Australia or New Zealand or any other country for that matter, once the five are caught and sent home.