IT IS sad to see that the flawed seasonal worker program is still happening with a vengeance five years after I first reported it in PNG Attitude.
Now it's Queensland’s turn and the seasonal workers involved are from Vanuatu.
Some received no pay after several months work. Others are in debt to scammers, have been threatened with deportation and are forced to live in sub-standard conditions with little or no food.
The story of 22 men from Vanuatu is compelling not only because of the sheer brazen nature of their exploitation, which was described as "appalling" in a judgement by Federal Circuit Court Justice Michael Jarrett.
Significantly, the exploitation occurred as part of the Australian government's own program to bring seasonal workers from Pacific islands.
The scheme is supposed to fulfil the need for low-skilled labour in Australia's horticulture sector and to deliver aid in the form of employment to struggling Pacific nations. It's also supposed to be the nation's most exploitation proof.
But these men's treatment reinforces the fear that some had of the seasonal worker program that it would mimic the notorious practice of "blackbirding", in which up to 62,000 Pacific island’s people were forced into slavery in 19th-century Queensland.
"Most received no wages and while in Australia they had to endure appalling treatment by Mr Bani, who had received payment for the labour undertaken by the employees and payment from the Australian government pursuant to [the program]," Justice Jarrett found.
"This case concerns the serious exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers lured to Australia by false promises. Employees were at times deprived of the appropriate basic living standards expected in Australia."
The judge found it "difficult to imagine more egregious conduct" than that displayed by the chief offender, and warned of the potential to undermine confidence in the program.
In 2015 PNG Attitude reported on a World Bank finding that failure to curb the use of illegal labour was to blame for the limited uptake of Australia’s seasonal worker program.
The nationwide survey revealed that the program championed by foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, was failing to meet its objectives.
"It's an eye-opener for us to find those things," said the Bank's director for the Pacific Islands, PNG and Timor Leste, Franz Drees-Gross.
Minister Bishop said the SWP program "works very well" but conceded it could be improved.