Government must address high number of road fatalities involving seasonal workers on Aus farms

The Australian Workers’ Union is demanding urgent action from the Federal Government to address the unacceptable number of fatal road accidents involving seasonal workers employed on farms across Australia.

The AWU has written to Minister Michaela Cash in a bid to introduce new road safety training for workers, but more importantly to force employers to address driver fatigue and stop exploiting its workforce.

Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU, said: “Any death whilst at work should be of concern to all Australians, but to lose four people in just a matter of weeks demonstrates this problem is spinning out of control.

“We have a duty to treat our neighbours from the Pacific Island far better. They come here expecting to save up money to take home to their families, but instead we have workers going home in a coffin.”

Four seasonal workers have lost their lives in the last two months alone whilst behind the wheel at work. The latest incident involved a 25-year-old Timorese man who died when he lost control of a car and crashed on a farm in Tasmania, where he was working.

Mr Walton said: “It’s clear that we need to focus much more on driver education and skills improvement for seasonal workers. But, the industry needs to be step up too and stop taking advantage of these workers and using them as cheap labour to get workers to and from sites.”

The AWU has discovered that most workers are transported to farms in buses driven a seasonal worker – who then does a 12 hour shift in the field – before getting back behind the wheel to drive everyone home. Workers are charged around $40-80 a week for their transport costs, but the driver has this fee waived.

Mr Walton said: “It’s clear that we need to focus much more on driver education and skills improvement for seasonal workers. But, the industry needs to be step up too and stop taking advantage of these workers and using them as cheap labour to get workers to and from sites.”

“Employers are making thousands of dollars each week by providing a bus and a driver who’s most likely knackered after working in the field all day and not even getting paid properly for the job. It’s not only exploitative, it’s dangerous and it wouldn’t be allowed in any other industry. Just imagine the outcry if we had a miner hopping in a bus and taking his fellow workers home after a full day down the pit. This needs to stop now before any more people die.”

In the letter to Minister Cash the AWU says the following steps must be taken:

  • Develop relevant road safety educational materials in consultation with seasonal worker and their representatives.
  • Ensure that approved employers provide all seasonal workers with relevant road safety educational materials in the appropriate language.
  • Ensure that approved employers are meeting their safety obligations with regards to the transportation of workers safely to and from work, whilst properly managing driver fatigue.
  • Ensure that approved employers provide seasonal workers who are drivers with the proper skills and educational training to ensure that they can safely operate vehicles in Australian conditions

The AWU asks that the department urgently arranges a meeting with all SWP stakeholders to discuss and address these issues before any further tragedies occur.

The AWU needs your help to ensure every seasonal worker is protected at work and is free from exploitation. Join the union today.

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