Eight female backpackers on working holiday visas were trapped in debt bondage to a farm boss who traded sex for work to pay bills he imposed on them.
Eight female backpackers on working holiday visas were trapped in debt bondage to a farm boss who traded sex for work to pay bills he imposed on them.

Sex acts expected of backpackers in return for low wage

Backpackers were expected to perform sexual favours to get enough hours to pay their bills, according to the National Union of Workers.

NUW (which has since merged into the United Workers Union) says that last year eight female workers on 417 working holiday visas were trapped in debt bondage at a region in South Australia.

The Taiwanese women's boss was also their landlord.

He was paying them $16 an hour but charging them so much for accommodation, transport, and the internet that they needed more hours to pay.

They were expected to "perform sexual favours to get more hours", according to the union.

Often fruitpickers or farm workers in Australia use working hostels or working accommodation. They move to a region and into the accommodation, because the accommodation owner promises them work.

This can leave people, particularly those with English as a second language, vulnerable to exploitation and far from help.

The union says the eight women were put up in a three-bedroom house owned by the man (a subcontractor). It's not clear how much money they ended up with each week.

He charged them $120 a week rent, $20 a week for the internet, and $25 a week for transport.

"They were expected to … so they could afford to pay for all these other things, perform sexual favours to get more hours," a union spokesperson told an investigation into slavery in South Australia.

The Flinders University report described it as a story where "labour underpayment, an accommodation racket, sexual harassment and violence in the Riverland horticultural area were all intrinsically linked and formed a debt bondage-type scenario".

The women went to the man's employer.

"And the threat of the media … so, they didn't actually ever go to the media, but they had made a pretty credible threat that they were going to (the media) and that got the host employer to cease using that contractor and also assist them in finding alternate housing and other transport as well," the union spokesperson said.

The women have now left Australia.

"I don't blame them for never wanting to come back," the union spokesperson said.

The report was one of several case studies in Slavery and slavery-like practices in SA: A report by Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans and Flinders University researcher Associate Professor Marinella Marmo.

The report recommends a state inquiry into slavery, in the wake of a federal inquiry that reported two years ago.


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