Shepparton Ethnic Council manager Chris Hazelman says the city’s migrant communities are vulnerable to worker exploitation.
“My suspicion would be that in a lot of cases information to the workers is provided orally,” he said. “I question the quality of information getting to the workers.”
“Investment in community engagement and education could help them better understand what their rights are.”
Mr Hazelman told the inquiry agencies such as Fair Work Australia had visited the Goulburn Valley in the past to inform workers of their rights, but often these sessions fell on deaf ears. “We’ve had agencies in town to convey the message of worker’s rights and responsibilities, but there are always question marks about their engagement with the community,” Mr Hazelman said.
“The reality is to meaningfully engage with these communities, it is about having one-on-ones with the community leaders … community engagement is a meaningful investment in the future.”
Mr Hazelman said some members of Shepparton’s migrant communities had limited English when they arrived, and the agriculture industry provided a way for them to work, despite those barriers. However, this also left the door open for exploitation.
“Issues around language and literacy are barriers,” he said. “They don’t know what their entitlements are, they just don’t know what their working circumstances should be, so the working would not know who is ultimately in charge. But 100 per cent are just happy to find work at all. ‘‘They’re a group that is vulnerable to exploitation.”
He said many people were reluctant to raise issues with the Ethnic Council or Fair Work Australia because of a distrust with government authority. “If you accept the premise that people have come to Australia in difficult circumstances, they are people coming with a healthy distrust of government,” Mr Hazelman said. “They don’t come and complain to us.”
“We’re dealing with a group that won’t want to extend the complaint, because they’re reluctant to be put through formal processes.”
Article and image courtesy Shepparton News