Australian employment agency, Linx Employment, is facing multiple allegations of exploiting Pacific Islanders working in Australia on seasonal visas under the government’s Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) program.
Linx is accused of failing to provide workers with their legally contracted 30 hours per week, leaving them without pay, withholding their visas and subjecting workers to abuse. In addition, based on multiple reports the Australian Workers Union (AWU) claims Linx management threatened and bullied migrant workers, with employees describing their treatment as “like slave labor”. Both the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations have launched investigations into the claims.
Good program, lax oversight
The PALM program recruits workers from Pacific Island nations to come to Australia on the basis that they will be given a minimum number of 30 work hours each week. The purpose of the program is to fill labor gaps across Australia, help workers provide for their families back home as well as develop professional skills. In 2022 nearly 30,000 people came to Australia under the PALM scheme. Sadly, for many of those recruited by Linx under the PALM program, the dream of developing job skills and sending money home has turned into a nightmare.
A Linx Employment worker who was out of work for months and too afraid to be named said:
“At this very moment, I don’t have a dollar in my account. I came here to work for money, not roam around like a street vendor on the street, like a nomad looking for a place and food everywhere. It shouldn’t be [like this].”
Other Linx recruits shared a similar experience of being left for weeks or months without any work as well as excessive deductions from their pay for squalid housing and being threatened or bullied by Linx management if they raised a complaint.
Having no work also meant they had no money to return home, even if they wanted to, leaving them hungry and stranded with no way out.
Vital workforce exploited
Pacific Islander workers play an integral role in Australia’s primary industries, and without them many sectors, like hospitality and agriculture, would struggle. Based on reports she received, AWU Queensland branch secretary, Stacey Schinnerl expressed “deep concern” for the welfare of Linx Employment workers in the Bundaberg region, where the accusations have taken place.
“Many Linx [Employment] workers were left with no work for six weeks in May and June, so they had to rely on food from local charities. That’s just disgraceful. Linx [Employment] workers feel they have been treated like slaves and we are assisting them to find another approved employer who will comply with Australian law.”
Modern slavery survivor and Pacific Islander advocate Moe Turaga is on the advisory panel at the Office of the New South Wales Anti-slavery Commissioner and is calling on the government to reform the PALM program to address these abuses and keep the workers coming.
According to the Australian Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, by June this year there were nearly 14,460 PALM workers in Queensland, the state where the accusations took place. The workers come to fill crucial labor gaps across some of Australia’s primary industries. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity like all workers, not left in modern slavery- impoverished and homeless due to a system that failed them.
Freedom United is calling on all governments to ensure people are able to migrate safely and ensure migrant workers are protected from exploitation and abuse. Sign the petition!