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Time to put an end to slavery in Australia

  • 20 September 2016


The first day of the advocacy week in Canberra with ACRATH is always a bit overwhelming. It's the day before we begin our week of meetings with any senator or member of the House of Representatives who is willing to see us.

ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans) is a group of Catholic religious women and men, and lay people, who are committed to the elimination of human trafficking. We travel from around Australia to raise our concerns with parliamentarians and meet with a wide range of people to raise awareness.

Over the last ten years, ACRATH has worked with others to advocate for changes, such as improved support for people who have been trafficked into Australia, and addressing slavery in the supply chain of products imported to Australia.

This year we have the task of asking for funding because our grant runs out within a year. I begin to feel embarrassed, like a beggar, ashamed to have to ask for money. But then we move on to other discussion points and my feelings of embarrassment fade into nothing in the face of the needs of the people we come here to fight for.

I laugh when our leader says our second task is to 'sort out labour exploitation'. I think, 'Sure, and we'll build a house while we're at it! That's about as achievable.' Labour exploitation in Australia is a massive problem and becoming worse.

And it's not like our parliamentarians are unaware of the facts. In March a senate report, titled 'A National Disgrace: Exploitation of Working Visa Holders', provided evidence of significant exploitation of vulnerable workers and made 33 recommendations to address these issues and work towards change. Yet, not one of these recommendations has been taken up and there is no sign yet that they will be.

I feel like our job in ACRATH is to be a pebble in the shoe of people who have the power to make the real changes to address these issues. Sometimes we are a pebble that jumps back into the shoe over and over! We come and tell them again about the real people who are affected by these issues.

We tell them of a group of men who had been working in a rural area from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, and received just $70 per week. These men, who have since moved on, never received just payment, and their work and