An undercover Malaysian journalist has told Australia's modern slavery inquiry that fruit pickers in Victoria are “brainwashed” with religion and struggling with debt.
Reporter Saiful Hasam said he spent two weeks at a fruit farm in Swan Hill, Victoria, according to The South China Morning Post.
He claimed many fruit pickers are promised high wages and so work despite it not being legal. However he says they then find their pay is low and they have to live with several others in homes with high rent, trapping them in debt.
When asked whether fruit pickers discuss problems with employers he claimed "they are being brainwashed using religion."
Those in charge of the fruit pickers say "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."
During Hasam's time at the fruit farm he explained he earned roughly £64 for 24 hours of work he completed within four days. However his rent cost about £47, despite sharing the home with 11 others, and he was shortchanged by £5, leaving him with little money left.
He said: “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."
Hasam suggested this kind of exploitation is taking place in the country on a large scale.
The inquiry is looking at how to introduce a modern slavery act in Australia. Its interim report recommended creating the role of an independent anti-slavery commissioner who could continue working against modern slavery.