Vanuatu seasonal worker describes work in Qld as “slavery’

A fruit picker from Vanuatu has claimed he was only paid $150 for six months of work.

Silas Aru, 53, picked fruit at farms across Queensland as part of an Australian federal government low skilled Seasonal Worker Program, The Brisbane Times reported.

The father-of-six, who described the work as 'slavery', said he was paid less than A$150 in total, and some days ate no food. 

'I have never before experienced working a full day without even a cup of tea,' Mr Aru told investigators from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

But Mr Aru was more fortunate than some of his workmates who didn't receive any money for their time working in Australia.

Mr Aru and 21 others were recruited from Vanuatu in May 2014 under an Australian program to bring seasonal workers from Pacific Islands.

The program aims to help workers from struggling Pacific Islands nations find employment and fill low-skilled labour gaps in Australia's horticulture industry.

Here the food supplied was 'never enough and did not last long,' the Federal Court found.

In August the workers were moved to the Bundaberg region.

Mr Aru stayed in a youth hostel and some days only ate a piece of bread.

When questioned about the conditions, the Queensland businessman threatened to deport the workers.

In the words of Justice Michael Jarrett, the workers were 'rescued' in September.

Of the 22 men, 13 did not receive any money. The others were paid between A$50 and A$150 each by some of the farmers.

The Queensland businessman has been ordered to pay the men almost A$80,000 in owed wages. He was also issued A$227,000 fine.

The Fair Work Ombudman's three-year Harvest Trail Inquiry is expected to conclude later this year.