‘I was promised customer service job but ended up on Aussie berry farm’
KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian who fell prey to a fruit-picking job scam in Australia described her five years in the land Down Under as gruelling.
The victim, who wanted to be known only as Avi, 39, from Desa Petaling, said she was in her mid-20s and working as a supervisor at a supermarket in the city when she was introduced to a bogus recruitment agent for jobs in Australia and New Zealand.
“I met the agent through a mutual friend. In the first meeting, he tried to convince my friend and me to travel to Australia to work.
“He claimed that he had a lot of contacts in every part of the world and knew the right people to get us well-paying jobs abroad.
“So I inquired more about a customer service position that he said was available in Australia.
“Eventually, I agreed to take the job offer with a salary of A$2,800 a month,” she said, adding that she thought the salary was big at the time.
Avi said the agent also promised her free accommodation for six months and that arrangements were being made for her work permit and other paperwork.
“It was my first trip out of Malaysia and I flew on a tourist visa.
“When I arrived there, a woman picked me up and told me that there were some last-minute changes in the work arrangement and that I was to work at an orchard until she sorted out the problem with the so-called company.
“Being young and naive, I had not asked about my offer letter (prior to departure) or the contact details of the person in charge.”
Avi said the woman drove her and another woman to a berry farm in the interior of New South Wales and left without giving any explanation.
“She just told me that she’ll be back in a few days after she had sorted the issue with the ‘company’ that I was supposed to work for.
“However, she did not return for two months.
“I was dismayed and had no choice but to work at the farm under the scorching sun for a mere A$50 a day. Every month, the farm owner would deduct close to A$400
for my accommodation and food.
“It was very depressing. I suffered from heat stroke many times while working on the farm. I had no means of seeking help from anyone because the farm was located far from any town, the closest being an hour’s drive away.”
She said there were only trucks going in and out of the farm and if any of the workers needed to buy anything, they would seek help from any locals willing to help.
Avi, who now runs a boutique in the city, said she was granted one phone call once every two weeks and even that would be deducted from her pay.
“I tried to call the agent in Malaysia a few times but the number was not in use.
“My friend also tried to locate the agent but failed,” she said, adding that they later learnt that the so-called agent had migrated to another country after sending many victims to places as far as Canada the United Kingdom.
Avi said in the five years that she worked there, she saved around A$13,000 which she sent back to pay her debts.
During her second year at the farm, she learnt that the owner had paid the agent a hefty sum for each worker to work on the farm.
“The job ‘contract’ was for five years, but once the contract ended, we were arrested for working in the country illegally. We were then deported and banned from re-entering Australia.”
Avi said there were many who shared her experience on the farm, with some victims as young as 17.