In May 2018, Tulia Roqara and her co-migrant workers from Vanuatu revealed that they have been paid about $8 an hour for picking tomatoes at a farm in Australia for MCG Fresh Produce. Not only underpaid, these workers were also exposed to dangerous working condition includes inhaling an intense chemical stench after spraying at the farm causing chest pains and bleeding through their noses and ears. They were threatened by their labour hire agency when they tried to join a union.
The scandal was reported widely in the media. NUW National Secretary Tim Kennedy was quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald saying: ”However, what this case proves again is that if workers don’t have the right to join the union and raise the alarm about workplace problems without retaliation, wage theft and exploitation will continue on Australian farms.”
Two months later the workers have decided to launch $10 million legal claim against their former Australian labour hire employer for gross underpayment and mistreatment. Tulia Roqara, on behalf of the workers told media from Vanuatu that they want “justice” and demanded to be paid back money owed to them. The workers are being backed by the National Union of Workers (NUW), which is running a campaign to improve working conditions in the almost entirely non-union farm sector where most of migrant workers are exploited.
Finally, in October 2018 the workers have won the legal claim that used new laws designed to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation. Workers who brought the case have now settled for more than twice the amount they had alleged they were underpaid during their four months work at the MCG Fresh Produce farm, west of Shepparton.
After winning the claim, Tulia expressed her feeling about fair treatment as quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald: ‘The most important thing, it’s not all about the money … (it’s about) that we have the same rights Australians have.” Said Tulia Roqara.
The National Union of Workers (NUW) organizers have visited Vanuatu recently to raise awareness, build relationship and strengthen the role of the union to help workers to fight for their rights both in Australia and Vanuatu.