417 Visa Working Holiday Holders (WHV) and Slavery in Australia

It’s a strange and scary title, I’ll explain it all in a bit. Before I do though, I want to say that this post isn’t for everybody, it’s probably really only of interest to very small minority of people.

But this website is about ‘What it’s really like to live in Australia‘ and when something is going on that is very bad, then I think people should get to know about it. This problem appears to affect Asians and in particular, those from Taiwan the most, and checking my Google stats about 18% of my readership come from that continent.

I hope I can attract as many of them as possible to this post, it’s information they need to know.

Four Corners

I watched an investigative documentary last week by the Four Corners team from ABC, it was called ‘Slaving Away‘. It wasn’t just about something bad going on, it was also very sad in places, this was one of those sad moments…Four Corners Slaving AwayBefore we get to that though, let’s go back in time to 1995, when I was still living in the UK and I got a job with a large company who provided cable TV services; I became one of their salespeople. It was doorknocking, interestingly enough, given last week’s post about Cold calling in Australia.

The job hours were 2 PM until 10 PM, five days a week, Monday to Friday. Reach your target of three contracts a day and you will get £30,000 per annum, company car included. Initial two weeks training provided.

Pretty straightforward.

Except…

  • If just one of the sales team of 15 people failed to hit their target, the management didn’t like it and imposed punishments.
  • This often meant starting at 10 AM instead of 2 PM, meaning we worked 12 hours a day instead of eight.
  • If the weekly target wasn’t met by Friday, we would have to work Saturdays as well, 10 AM till 10 PM.
  • If the target still wasn’t met, then we were told to come in Sundays.
  • Sometimes on the weekends though, they’d let a start at 12 noon; yay!
  • In a period going from November through to December just before Christmas, I actually worked 31 days in a row. It’s a record I’ve never beaten.

Why did I stay?

Well I only stayed for three months and that was because they paid £300 per week during that two week training period; if you left within three months, you had to pay that back, otherwise I’d have gone earlier. At the time, £600 was a sizeable sum to me, and anyway, I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.

When people did finally leave, and they did regularly, this company always failed to pay the last month’s commission, usually totalling more than £2000. Most people would just let this go, they couldn’t be bothered to fight. Me and one other worker though, we decided to take them to the tribunal and although it took us three months or so, we got our money in full.

It was a pretty horrible experience, but I could cope with it; I was a mature adult, I was living in my own country, I spoke the language, I understood the law, I knew my rights.

If I had been somewhere in Asia or maybe Taiwan, it could have and would have been a totally different story for me.

Now imagine if you’ve only just turned 20, you’re in a foreign land, you don’t understand the law fully, or your rights, and you are communicating in a language that you are probably still trying to learn.

How would you feel? Let me show that picture again…

Four Corners Slaving Away417 WHV Holders, Asians, Taiwanese and Slavery in Australia

At the moment, those coming here on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) can stay for up to 12 months, but if they do three months work in certain specified occupations, and one of them is farm work, they can get that visa extended for a further 12 months.

This is a very attractive prospect for many backpackers who are often prepared to do this 3 month stint for low pay, sometimes even just for food and accommodation, simply to secure their second year stay here. Hey, if you get to stay in a nice farmhouse, work eight hours a day, have a great bedroom to yourself, get to ride the horses in the evening, that sort of thing, it can be a great working experience.

But that’s not what happens to some people. Some, and as I’ve said, it appears to be mainly Asians and Taiwanese but other nations, including those from the UK should also be aware of this, are being heavily exploited. Management, which in this case seems to equal ‘Labour Hire Contractors’, just like my old cable TV managers, play games with them. Much nastier games.

Four Corners Slaving AwayIn the Four Corners documentary I heard of:

  • People working up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, in a refrigerated chicken factory.
  • 10 to 20 people sharing a horse barn as their accommodation.
  • A preprepared salad company making people work up to 22 hours a day for just $14 an hour.
  • Travel shops in Taiwan luring young people into WHV’s with the promise of earning good money in Australia, only to deliver them straight off the plane to these unscrupulous contractors.
  • Stories of sexual harassment and requests for sexual favours in order to sign off on the extended visa papers.
  • Don’t want to ‘put out’ that sexual favour? Then pay a lump sum or continue working for a while longer for free.

Work longer for free?

Sounds like my cable TV management idiots, but for me it was just ‘there goes the weekend’. In this case, it’s much worse. At least I could walk away after three months, many of these young people are tricked into staying longer and longer.

These people haven’t been working on small hidden way farms or insignificant smallholdings either. These are some of Australia’s major fresh produce suppliers, supplying major supermarkets like Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Costco, IGA as well as fast food chains KFC and Red Rooster.

I’m not going to say any more about that documentary, I’m going to point you to where (hopefully) you will be able to watch it for yourself. Those who are interested in this subject can find lots more information about it in the links I’ll provide below.

According to my tests, this video is not blocked in other countries so you can watch the 45 minute documentary in full from this page. If you do have trouble getting the video to work, maybe you should try to access it through a VPN. Here’s the link…

And you can read more about it on these pages…

And then there’s a ton of information available from ABC.net.au

Conclusion

It’s heartbreaking when young adults, some barely 20 years old, who are alone and away from their parents, their friends and their native country, come here to Australia for a once-in-a-lifetime working experience and end up getting treated like this.

According to the stats I found on the ABC, around 180,000 people came here on a WHV last year. I can assure you we haven’t locked them all up in a chicken farm for 18 hours a day and we don’t have them all preparing salads for 22 hours a day either.

This is a problem that is only affecting a small minority. But even if it were just a few, that is a few too many.

The vast majority of WHVers are having fun, enjoying the beaches, the sunshine and maybe working as a waitress or a bartender to bolster their spending money. But some visiting this country on a WHV are vulnerable and they are being exploited and that can’t continue to happen.

Following this documentary most of the Labour Hire Contractors involved with this have had their contracts terminated by the farms. The big supermarkets are investigating, they want to put a stop to this as well.

Hopefully something will be done.

Help with your jobsearch

If you want help finding a backpacking job in Australia, you will find some useful links on the following page:

There is also a link to ibackpacker, a website (apps available for iPhone and Android) that not only helps you find a backpacking job, but you can read other peoples reviews and ratings of jobs they’ve had. Well worth a look.

Now, can I interest you in buying cable TV?

Update: October 2015

7-Eleven also guilty of exploiting workforce

For Corners continued to expose worker exploitation with their program 7-Eleven: The Price of Convenience.

Here’s what ABC News had to say:

The convenience stores came under scrutiny following an ABC Four Corners investigation which revealed the company was systematically paying its workers about half the minimum wage.

Many of the staff were foreigners who were being forced to work in contravention of their visa conditions.

An inquiry into Australia’s temporary work visa program found the underpaying of staff in the convenience store chain was systemic and had been happening for decades.

For the full story, visit ABC News or just Google “7-Eleven: The Price of Convenience”

Again, this company had targeted foreigners on temporary work visas here in this country in the same way as those companies in the above article.

Call me old-fashioned but I like it when companies give a fair days pay for a fair day’s work. I think it’s despicable for large companies like this to rip off their workforce. My advice to any worker, temporary or not, avoid 7-Eleven. In fact I think we should all avoid 7-Eleven, both workers and shoppers. Let’s all vote with our feet, whenever you see a 7-Eleven, just walk on by.

I definitely will not be buying anything ever again from 7–Eleven, that’s for sure.

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • George Winxhaull November 30, 2015, 8:57 pm | Link

    This is very inspirational and the site is well organized. Thank you very much for positing such gems for a greater cause. Keep up the work.

  • BobinOz October 8, 2015, 7:22 pm | Link

    7-Eleven have also now been found guilty of exploiting their workforce, particularly foreigners, please see the update to this post. Best advice is to avoid this disgraceful convenience store not just as a worker, but as a shopper as well.

  • Cecily July 23, 2015, 8:27 pm | Link

    And I must stress – this does not only happen to a small minority!

    • BobinOz July 24, 2015, 9:18 pm | Link

      Yes, it’s shocking, that’s why I wanted to make sure people are aware of it. I wish I could offer you some advice about where to go to get decent work to ensure your second year, but I simply don’t know.

      I do hope that this disgraceful treatment of young people stops following this TV exposure, I’m hopeful something is being done about it now. Thanks for sharing your story, Bob

  • Cecily July 23, 2015, 8:25 pm | Link

    This is what I’m going through at the moment! I haven’t had any problems as bad as these but I wouldn’t say these problems were with the minority – far more than that actually! Every job I have done for my 2nd visa has paid me under the minimum wage and this is after they work your fingers to the bone. I stayed in a garden shed for two of the places I have worked at. Some places make you pay for accommodation after not paying you your wage that you have earnt! One of the places I stayed, the living conditions were so poor that it made me severly ill with a stomach bug for 10 days and the farmer told me to go to the doctor as one girl before me had the same thing and it turned out it was a parasite!! The days can be 14+ hours. Most of the time you work the days and then the employer doesn’t sign you off for your 2nd visa. I’ve also been crushed by and trampled on by cows because the farmers don’t care about the health and safety of the workers. The list is endless and I am a British girl. I am thinking about giving up on the 2nd year…

  • Kamma May 14, 2015, 9:55 pm | Link

    There’s only really one word that expresses how I feel after reading this: What!
    That is unacceptable! Thank goodness something is being done about it, but Damn it for happening to begin with! Good job sharing the word, Bob. It shouldn’t dissuade people, but anyone who comes over on a WHV should take care to know who hires them.

    • BobinOz May 15, 2015, 8:47 pm | Link

      Yes, totally unacceptable, hopefully those who can stamp this out, will. This is not one of those posts I wanted to write, I like to write about fun things, but it was something that I had to write. If it stops just one person getting trapped in this thing then it was worthwhile.

      Fortunately other much bigger websites than mine are also given this a lot of publicity, so hopefully things will change going forward.

      As you say though, it shouldn’t dissuade people from coming over and having fun on the WHV, just as long as they are aware of what might happen and know how to avoid it.

  • Nicholas Clark May 14, 2015, 6:30 pm | Link

    Came to this article expecting a short write up around how the budget will affect WHV. How wrong was I, looks like a horrible time for those involved. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to watch the 4 corners report

    • BobinOz May 15, 2015, 8:42 pm | Link

      Yes, it certainly has been a horrible time for some of those caught up in this. Well worth watching the documentary if you get a chance, although I must stress that this scam, and it is a scam, only affects a small minority of those coming here on a WHV.

      And you’re right, the budget hasn’t helped those on a Working Holiday Visa either, I believe the government have just taken away the $18,000 tax free threshold from them. Not a good week for WHVers.

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