Article Written by Jacquelin Magnay at TheAustralian.com.au – View the original article here.
The grieving English mother of a woman murdered in outback Queensland has launched a scathing attack warning other parents about the “wild west’’ of Australia’s second working holiday visa program.
Rose Ayliffe’s 20 year old daughter Mia Ayliffe-Chung was killed by a French backpacker Smail Ayad, 29, in Home Hill, south of Townsville in August last year. Another Briton, 30 year old Thomas Jackson was killed trying to protect her as she was repeatedly stabbed.
Ms Ayliffe, an English school teacher said the wild west conditions for backpackers in Australia contributed to her daughter’s death, which happened just four days after she sought to extend her Australian visa by working 88 days in ‘’modern day slavery’’. Ms Ayliffe has made claims it is not uncommon for Australian employers to confiscate passports of backpackers.
Yesterday she wrote an article in the The Telegraph UK empathising with the family of the 22 year old English woman held captive for two terrifying months in outback Australia, saying how traumatised the woman and her family would be.
The spate of recent incidents involving British backpackers has sparked fresh alarm across Britain, coming after the high profile ordeal of Joanne Lees and the murder of her boyfriend Peter Falconio 16 years ago near Barrow Creek in the Northern Territory and the Ivan Milat killings in the 1990s.
As well as the Ayliffe-Chung and Jackson murder, and the kidnapping ordeal allegedly suffered by the 22 year old from Liverpool, England, another backpacker — Mary Kate Heys, 20, from Manchester — was rescued from a road trip with a Swedish man in Queensland in December after sending her father emergency text messages.
The incidents coincide with a new three year $100 million Australian tourism campaign to attract British and European backpackers to the country.
Ms Ayliffe said Australia’s second working holiday visa program was so badly run it often amounted to little more than modern-day slavery, writing: “… the scheme is so badly run it often amounts to little more than modern-day slavery for these young adults.’
“Put bluntly, they are exploited into carrying out Australians’ dirtiest, unsafest work for them, in the most remote and inhospitable areas of that vast country.’’
She added that backpackers often had little understanding of the remote locations, which frequently had poor internet and long distance transport links.
She added: “The employers themselves often take advantage by paying workers next to nothing. Verbal and even sexual abuse and harassment are rife, and young women in particular are at high risk. It is not uncommon for passports to be confiscated by employers to prevent workers leaving, but many are so desperate to clock up their days they feel compelled to put up with anything.’’
In an earlier fundraising campaign in memory of Ms Ayliffe-Chung it was claimed farm work was largely unregulated in terms of health and safety and due diligence to workers, highlighting sunstroke, dehydration and poisonous snakes and spiders in the Queensland cane fields. Ms Ayliffe insisted there were cases of financial and sexual exploitation of young people in exchange for the signing off of visa documents.
Most backpackers seeking the second year extension fill the requirement by picking fruit, or working in the mining or construction industries in rural areas. Ms Ayliffe-Chung had gone to Home Hill to work on a cane field, clearing the fields of stones to protect farm machinery. Her mother said the work was “backbreaking, boring in the searing Queensland heat and four days later, she was dead.’’
Ms Ayliffe said she has been told of one employer accused of rape but who had been allowed to carry on offering work to young women afterwards. She said the man is facing trial next month for a further rape of a backpacker.
”Then there was the crystalmeth-using farmer who housed his workers in caravans, one of which he burnt to the ground in a terrifying night seared into the minds of all who witnessed it,’’ she said.
Ms Ayliffe claims there is a total lack of supervision and regulation of the visa extension program, which should offer protection to young itinerant workers.
“In Britain, we have already seen this type of exploitation of immigrant workers challenged and legislated against,’’ she wrote.
“After the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockle picking disaster, when at least 21 Chinese workers died having been brought to the UK illegally, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was established to protect vulnerable and migrant workers through a set of standards which cover health and safety, accommodation, pay, transport and training.’’
She has begun a campaign in the name of her daughter and Mr Jackson to gather evidence and pressure the Australian government to clean up the backpacker industry. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote to Ms Ayliffe last December expressing his sympathy and informing her of a new $20m funding for the Fair Work Ombudsmen to investigate the backpacker working conditions and introducing higher penalties for employers who exploit migrant workers.
But Ms Ayliffe believes not enough is being done.
”What I want most is to warn other parents of what is really happening in Australia,’’ she wrote.
”I have barely begun to grieve for my only child. I have yet to visit Home Hill where she died. In my mind, she will always be a few weeks shy of her 21st birthday.’’