Samoan farmworkers told by government official to quit unions

Besides the meeting in North Queensland last month, age and Herald spoke to Samoan workers in Tasmania and at another farm in Queensland, who received a similar message from Mr Saleuesile to quit the United Workers Union (UWU).

Mr Saleuesile said in a statement that “the Samoa Ministry of Trade, Industry and Labor and the Honorable Minister are reviewing the issues of age and Herald and “it is under review”.

“A full response to your questions will have to wait until internal processes are exhausted.” Mr Saleuesile said the Samoan ministry recognizes the role of trade unions in “protecting and promoting the interests of employees”.

A Tasmanian berry farm worker, who could not be identified because he feared deportation, said many of his Samoan colleagues had been idle for weeks and had not been hired during the 30 hours per week promised in their contracts. Many had fallen behind on their rent, the worker said.

“I thought we should all be treated the same,” the worker said. “We had very high hopes of coming to work in Australia as we were told we would be paid hourly at a rate that would give us plenty of money to help our family and our home. Most of us have children that we send to school, and also to help in the church and in the village.

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Last year Mr Saleuesile spoke to workers via Zoom and told them not to join the union.

“In the end, Aufa’i didn’t help us, that’s why we contacted the union,” the source said.

The worker said he was “scared because we were told he was the liaison officer for us, and we should listen to him and respect what they should do”.

Another Queensland worker, who also could not be identified for fear of being deported, said Mr Saleuesile had told workers that the Samoan government “does not allow you to join the union”.

The meeting in which he allegedly said this was arranged by a labor hire company. “I have no idea what he’s doing here. Maybe he is so nice to the company and will try to stop us from joining the union,” the worker said.

Many Samoan workers work on banana plantations in North QueenslandCredit:Robert Rough

UWU national secretary Tim Kennedy has written to the Samoan government and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to say the union is “appalled” by the bullying and threats faced by Samoan workers.

“Mr. Saleuesile’s illegal intimidation campaign is aimed at silencing Samoan seasonal workers and preventing them from joining the union and raising legitimate and serious concerns about their wages and conditions,” he said. .

Mr Kennedy said the union viewed the conduct as a breach of the Fair Work Act and an ILO convention on freedom of association, which Samoa had ratified. The union “will take all necessary measures to uphold the rights of members in the workplace,” he added.

Noah Fasa, a warehouse worker who moved to Australia from Samoa seven years ago, said he and others support farmworkers. “The union is for everyone, not just white people,” he said. “I would suggest the government look for a solution before we lose this opportunity for our people.”

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He said life was tough in Samoa, explaining that the last time he worked there, in 2013, he was earning just $2.50 an hour. Working in Australia and earning a good salary would help the country, he said. Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash did not respond to requests for comment.

A recent Senate inquiry heard allegations that Samoan workers employed under the seasonal scheme were also forced not to join a union. A worker said he was paid $300 net for a 73-hour week. Another worker, Koneferenisi Maiava, said he only earned $100 for working more than 70 hours a week.

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