Overseas workers warned of forced labour conditions before seeking employment in Australia

Australia is a migration corridor for temporary workers, especially from the Asia-Pacific region.

The AFP is urging domestic and overseas workers seeking employment in Australia to be aware of forced labour and exploitation indicators, with reports of the crime increasing almost 50 per cent in the past five years.

Since 2018-19, the AFP has received 178 reports relating to forced labour and exploitation – crimes that are forms of human trafficking.

AFP Commander Helen Schneider said unfortunately migrant workers had been vulnerable to exploitation due to factors such as visa status, limited understanding of Australian worker rights, cultural barriers and social isolation.

“Criminals may use deceptive methods to target vulnerable individuals looking for seasonal or temporary work in Australia before exploiting them into forced labour.”

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Commander Schneider added.

“In a recent investigation, the AFP charged a man who is alleged to have recruited workers via online job advertisements and threatened to have them deported to prevent them from seeking help.”

Forced labour is when people are coerced, threatened or deceived into working against their will because they do not consider they are free to stop work, or leave their place of employment.

Signs a person may be a victim include acts of physical and psychological abuse, poor working conditions and being in debt bondage – when a victim believes they have a large debt owing to their employer and must work to pay it off.

The below can be indicators of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, which are comprehensively criminalised under Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth):

  • Workers live in places unsuitable for living, such as in agricultural or industrial buildings or in overcrowded or unsafe accommodation.
  • Lack of protective work equipment.
  • No access to earnings or savings.
  • No labour contract.
  • Forced to work excessively long hours.
  • No choice of accommodation.
  • Never leave work premises without being escorted by their employer.
  • Unable to move freely.
  • Disciplined through fines.
  • Subjected to insults, abuse, threats or violence.
  • Employer doesn’t provide basic training.
  • Information is provided in languages other than the local language around the workplace.
  • No health and safety notices.
  • Employer or manager being unable to show the documents required for employing workers from other countries.
  • Employer or manager being unable to show records of wages paid to workers.
  • Health and safety equipment being of poor quality or missing.
  • Work equipment being designed or modified so that it can be operated by children.
  • Evidence that labour laws are being breached.
  • Evidence that workers must pay for tools or that costs for food or accommodation are being unlawfully deducted from their wages.

Australia is a migration corridor for temporary workers, especially from the Asia-Pacific region.

In January this year, a Victorian man was sentenced to 3 years and six months for forced labour offences after coercing a victim to work 14-hour days, seven days a week, in his business for two consecutive years.

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The investigation identified the business owner had promised the victim he would help him secure a visa to remain in Australia, while also making threats to report the victim and his family to the authorities for working illegally.

In December, 2023, the AFP arrested and charged a 47-year-old Darwin man with forced labour and servitude offences after he allegedly recruited deckhands through a deceptive online job advertisement.

The man allegedly used an online job board to advertise for deckhands and coxswains to work on his fishing boat from August to December last year.

The victims alleged they were forced to work without pay, were provided with little food and water and held on the man’s fishing vessel against their will.

One victim was allegedly so desperate to escape that they jumped from the vessel in the middle of the night into crocodile-infested waters and swam to shore.

The AFP extradited the man from Darwin to Cairns last month (15 February, 2024) on new aggravated servitude and deceptive recruiting charges.

The AFP is urging any victims who worked on the fishing boat in the past 20 years to please come forward and contact the AFP on 131 237 or use the AFP’s confidential online form.

Commander Schneider said individuals hired for seasonal or temporary work in the agriculture, construction, hospitality and manufacturing sectors were most at risk of forced labour and exploitation.

“Seasonal work in Australia includes a range of legitimate jobs such as deckhands, fruit pickers and packers, farmhands, laborers, and vineyard workers.”

Cmdr Schneider further observed:

“Unfortunately, criminals do take advantage and exploit workers looking for temporary work. As demand for seasonal and casual workers increases during the warmer months, we urge individuals to be aware of the indicators of forced labour and ask their employers to provide appropriate documentation and contracts before accepting job offers.”

Commander Schneider said reporting forced labour was an important step that ensured the safety of victims and protected them from further abuse and exploitation.

Cmdr Schneider said@

“Some victims of forced labour may view their new working conditions as preferable to those in their country of origin – even though the conditions are extremely exploitative. This means some victims may feel unwilling or unable to report crimes out of fear of retribution by perpetrators, social isolation and financial dependence on offenders.”

He added:

“However, all workers in Australia are entitled to a minimum wage and certain conditions. The AFP will continue to work collaboratively with state and territory law enforcement agencies and non-government organisations to combat forced labour and protect vulnerable communities from being subjected to exploitative working conditions.”

*Reports of forced labour and exploitation received by the AFP between 2018 to 2023 (financial years)

2018/19 FY2019/20 FY2020/21FY2021/22 FY2022/23 FYTOTAL

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