Some Malaysians dream of working overseas and earning big bucks. We often hear people say that even if you work laupek jobs in Australia or the UK, you could still earn more than working white collar jobs in our own backyard. Serious!
People often think Malaysians don’t want to take 3D (dirty, demeaning, dangerous) jobs so we have to hire foreign workers. Actually that’s a myth, like the ‘powers’ of Raja Bomoh’s coconuts. Close to home, there are 600,000 Malaysians working in Singapore, the majority doing 3D jobs. When interviewed, these guys said there was no way they could survive on what they’re paid over here.
Further away in sunny Australia, Malaysians are working in idyllic farms where, it’s said, they can earn from RM6,000 to RM12,000 a month just.picking.fruit!
Holdupholdupholddup. What’s the catch? There HAS to be an udang di sebalik batu, coz it sounds too good to be true.
Well, it is. One undercover journalist explored the rotten truth behind fruit picking Down Under…
Malaysian fruit pickers were conned. They end up becoming like slaves
In SOME instances, unscrupulous agents dupe unknowing Malaysians into signing up, by telling them that tourist visas, bridging visas or even student visas are sufficient to allow them to work in Australia. These jerks are operating in Malaysia and some are linked to tour companies. They act as the middleman between farm owners and the workers. Up front, they make people pay RM3,999 (or whatever fee) to cover air fare, hotel expenses, visa application, accommodation and transportation.
Hmm, why does this plot sound oddly familiar? Oh yeah, the same plight befalls Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and Nepalis who come to our country to work, but have become victims to fake agents. 🙁
The Age published an exclusive on the exploitation of Malaysian fruit farm workers who don’t have proper working permits. Led by Utusan journalist Saiful Hasam, the undercover investigation began when he landed in Melbourne on 26 Oct 2016 with a short-term visa that doesn’t allow him to work. No visa? No problem. He gets a job anyway at Cutri Fruit farm immediately, after contacting one of the “agents” named Pak Mur.
Agents are not solo operatives who randomly came up with this idea in the shower. They work for big fish who run the whole criminal syndicate. Pak Mur recruits for a man named Lee the Afghan (who has around 60 illegal workers under his control). He took Saiful was to a farmhouse in Woorinen, Swan Hill. See what some the fruit pickers’ lodgings look like:
If not run-down houses or sheds, the fruit-pickers live in caravans parked in empty lots. Just 15 minutes away, the Nyah caravan park is known as Malay Village due to the high number of Malaysian workers living there.
“It is very difficult to cook and to shower. It is very difficult to live here.” – an illegal Malaysian fruit picker told the paper
Don’t get us wrong, there are legit fruit-picking job opportunities, but those who are interested might want to do proper research before simply trusting any agent. Even several Australian sites have warned audiences to beware of such scams. Aiyo, it really is too good to be true, otherwise what’s to stop everyone from rushing off like Disney Princesses about to embark on some crazy adventure.
Besides the awful living conditions, they are paid below the legal minimum wage
Given his lack of experience, Saiful expected to earn less than the other workers. Even taking this into account, his wages are depressing. On Fridays, he earns just $16 (RM52) for 6.25 hours of intensive work at an hourly rate of $2.56 (RM8.30). On Saturdays, he earns $48.10 (RM156) for 9.25 hours work. On Mondays, he works just over three hours to earn $13 (RM42), wrote The Age in their exclusive.
That’s FAR below the 2016 legal minimum wage of $17.29 (RM56) per hour! Other workers told Saiful they earn $50 (RM162) to $110 (RM357) a day… one guy was paid as low as $20 (RM65) a day before he found a more honest contractor who paid him $13 (RM42) an hour.
Dozens of others worked for no nett income after rent and transport deduction, while others were still paying off DEBT for the money they spent getting these jobs. Hmm, why does this plot sound oddly familiar? Oh yeah, this also happens to some foreign workers in Malaysia who have to pay off debts to agents for getting them jobs. It’s really sad.
“A thousand sad stories, they are basically the same story. They are struggling. For the newbies, they are very struggling and keep thinking, ‘Today, I have to settle how many trees just to pay rental. After finish that part, then we are struggling to collect enough money for the food’.
Sometimes, based on my experience, it’s just enough for food and rental … This is grossly unfair for the workers, because they are very hard-working.” – Saiful Hasam, quoted in The Guardian
This has been classified as modern slavery and the Australian authorities have launched an inquiry into it on 15 February 2017, with the aim of establishing a Modern Slavery Act. Justice Minister Michael Keenan, plans to enforce a law for companies with a turnover larger than $100m to file a public modern slavery report each year. It’s really that bad. But, why don’t these workers just leave?
Workers are scared to speak up against their enslavement for fear of being arrested
Waitaminute, if they’re being treated like slaves, wouldn’t the authorities rescue and protect them? Unfortunately, the situation is not that simple… you see, they were brought into the country illegally because they have been duped into believing that their visa allows them to work. If they are seen, they could be arrested by Aussie cops and placed in detention centres, so they try to hide.
“A group of Malaysian workers thinning trees (removing branches) about 500 metres ahead of us suddenly scamper into the orchard. For the rest of the day, we meet workers in homes with curtains drawn.” – reported The Age
Hmm, why does this plot sound oddly famil…..you get the idea la.
Malaysiakini reported that 34 Malaysians, including 2 minors, who were victims of fruit picking scams, were detained at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre after falling victim to fruit picking scams. “Once these workers are caught, the ‘agents’ would refuse to get involved, while the victims would bear the consequences and risk being deported,” Bersih stated.
Mohammad Rowi related his experience of being remanded in Barwon Prison for 258 days, alongside accused rapists, murderers and other felons! Later, it was arranged for lawyer Vicknaraj Thanarajah to help pro-bono. “I thought to myself, this guy can expose what is happening to thousands of Malaysian workers,” said Vicknaraj, so he contacted a journalist. This brought the whole issue to surface and led to Saiful being roped in to go undercover.
Another reason why they don’t speak up, according to Saiful, is because they were ‘brainwashed’ with religion.
“The house leader always say, ‘OK, please be patient, this is your test, coming to Australia, and one fine day you will get enough money. This is normal for everybody, and even me myself go through this process.’” – Saiful related, The Guardian
During his stint, the Utusan journalist managed to discreetly record Pak Mur and other agents who revealed incriminating info and he just recently witnessed at the inquiry, The Guardian reported on 30 Oct.
It’s ok to find fruit picking work, but here’s how to avoid scams
Reading about the enslavement of Malaysians may put some people off working on fruit farms Down Under, however as mentioned, there are proper fruit-picking jobs if we know how to look for them.
“We strongly advise everyone to stay informed on such scams and to only obtain Australian visas through reputable channels.” – Bersih advised
- Do not pay for work fees in advance (up-front fees). There is absolutely no reason to pay someone to find you work in Australia. You might sometimes need to pay for tags and tag bag.
- Do not pay for accommodations in advance. Most farms do not provide accommodation. Some do, though if they ask for payment up-front you it could be fishy.
- Don’t rely on an ABN/ACN check. If an ad lists an Australian Business or Company Number (ABN/ACN), you cannot verify that it is legitimate. Scammers have been known to hijack ABN/ACN numbers. Instead…
- Research the Bank State Branch (BSB) number. This will show you what bank the account number is linked to. Check it here: bsb.apca.com.au. If the search comes up with something like a ‘Austraila Post Pre-Paid Card’, run like crazy. No legitimate company uses a prepaid bank card in relation to hiring workers.
- Beware if they only provide a post office box as the contact address. Be very careful of ads that only supply a PO box address (no street address) coz this is typically a good indication of a potential scam.
- Incorrect fruits/veg or incorrect harvest times. Watch out for advertisements that list fruits and vegetables that don’t grow in that area, or that are listed for harvest in the wrong time of year.
And find out what proper visa you need here. If you are in doubt, maybe you can try contacting Fair Work Australia to know your rights. It’s important to note that migrant workers and visa holders, including international students, have the same workplace rights as all other workers in Australia. With a little common sense and proper checking, anyone can find good work and be paid fairly.