14 October 2020

Sherry Huang: “In 2010, I came to Australia from Taiwan as a working holidaymaker and began work in an apple-packing shed in Shepparton. The work itself was not too bad, but I was paid about $13 per hour — below the legal minimum. From that $13 per hour, the labour hire provider took 13 per cent in fees and charges that I later discovered were unlawful. These charges were ostensibly to cover things such as accommodation; we slept six to a small room in bunks, or two in a shipping container. … The three sexual assaults I personally took to the police on behalf of friends have still never been acted upon; the police told us there was no point as the victims would have left the country by the time the case was tried. Workers are still denied medical care when they are injured because non-European workers don’t enjoy reciprocal rights under Medicare, and labour hire companies typically fail to register our names for WorkCover. A man I know lost three fingers in a meat grinder — would you trade six months on the minimum wage for three of your fingers? … Australia’s fruit and vegetable harvesting industry is a house of cards, stacked upon the willing blindness of Australians to human suffering, poverty, and abuse, imposed by their fellow countrymen. … The pandemic has laid bare the intention of the government’s labour market strategy. … Rather than addressing conditions in the industry, politicians blame jobless Australians for valuing their lives and labour too highly.”