Australian Institute of Criminology

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Vulnerabilities to people trafficking in the pacific

Media Release

22 November 2011

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) today released research examining the Pacific Island Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme (PSWPS), and vulnerabilities to people trafficking in the Pacific Region.

The AIC has over the past three years, undertaken research to assess the risks and protective factors for trafficking in persons and to identify matters for priority research as part of the Australian Government’s response to combat trafficking in persons.

The 2008 announcement that four Pacific Island countries – Kiribati, PNG, Tonga and Vanuatu - had been selected to be involved in a three year labour mobility pilot program with Australia for temporary workers in the horticultural sector was welcomed among the Pacific Island community.

To date, numbers of actual workers under the scheme have been low, but are increasing. Fifty-six visas were issued under the scheme in 2008–09, 67 in 2009–10 and 550 had been issued as at July 2011 since the beginning of the pilot. Following a recent announcement, the scheme will also allow East Timorese people access to tourism work in Australia.

“The Australian Government has designed the PSWPS to counter a broad spectrum of poor practices which will assist in preventing labour trafficking and the exploitation of illegal workers in the horticultural industry,” Research Manager Laura Beacroft said.

Ms Beacroft said that the Government approached the pilot program cautiously and key protections were implemented to prevent exploitation including active regulation and monitoring of the scheme and tight controls over a limited number of approved employers. Consistent with best practice, an interim evaluation has been undertaken and a full evaluation of the PSWPS is currently underway, with the final report to be published soon.

“The AIC found that at this early stage, the PSWPS is regarded as a positive development in the legal sourcing and use of overseas temporary labour.”

The second AIC report on Vulnerabilities to trafficking in the Pacific found that existing patterns of people movement; weak border and immigration controls, states affected by poor governance, failing rule of law and corruption; the impact of cultural practices entwined with poverty, and a limited capacity to respond to natural disasters were key vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons.

Several cases of trafficking in persons have been reported, mostly involving overseas workers being trafficked into the Pacific region for labour exploitation. While work is being done to limit these vulnerabilities, strategies involving the capacities of cohesive communities in the Pacific and also the non-government sector, need more consideration.