Illegal farm workers arrested by Border Force in early morning immigration raid

Grant TaylorThe West Australian
VideoMore than 50 illegal workers have been rounded up during a major blitz on shadowy labour hire syndicates operating in WA's South-West.

More than 50 illegal foreign workers have been rounded up during a blitz on shadowy labour hire syndicates operating in the South West.

Dozens of Australian Border Force and State and Federal police officers swooped on sev-eral properties in Pemberton about 3am yesterday, catching startled workers in their beds.

More than 40 of the mostly Malaysian nationals were found at a motel in the heart of the town where they were living in cramped six-bed dormitory-style rooms that were originally designed to house two people.

Two other homes were also hit in central Pemberton where another 10 workers were taken into custody.

Federal Police and Border Force officers raid a Pemberton Motel owned by local producer Paul Da Silva.
Camera IconFederal Police and Border Force officers raid a Pemberton Motel owned by local producer Paul Da Silva. Credit: The West Australian, Sharon Smith/The West Australian.

It is believed the workers were employed by labour hire intermediaries who supply them to local farmers at market rates.

But just a fraction of that money makes its way into the pockets of the workers, whose pay is also docked by up to $150 a week by the contractor to cover their accommodation.

Border Force officers had hoped to arrest some of the contractors during yesterday’s raids but inquiries into their whereabouts are continuing.

The raids were the biggest conducted in WA in nearly three years and were part of a national crackdown on illegal workers, codenamed Task Force Cadena.

Rude awakening for sleepy farm workers

No farms were targeted yesterday but local strawberry grower Paul Da Silva was questioned briefly by officials when he arrived at the motel, which is owned by his family.

He strongly denied that his family knew illegal workers were staying at the property and said the rooms had been rented out on a long-term basis to a labour hire contractor who sublet them to his workers.

“If we had any suspicions we would have called the authorities ourselves,” Mr Da Silva said.

Of the 50 men and women taken into custody, 27 were found to have overstayed their original entry visas, which meant they were in the country illegally.

Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian
Camera IconPicture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian Credit: The West Australian

The remaining 23 were on legitimate student or tourist visas which did not entitle them to work.

Most are facing immediate deportation and have been moved to immigration detention centres in Perth or Northam.

ABF assistant commissioner investigations, Wayne Buchhorn, said the ABF was committed to stamping out illegal work practices in Australia and warned that yesterday’s raids were just the beginning.

“Evidence obtained during yesterday’s warrant activity will be used to continue investigations,” he said.

See exclusive vision of the raids on 7 News tonight at 6pm.

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