Undocumented migrant workers face a major risk of COVID-19 infection and could produce disease clusters, union-commissioned research warns.
There are between 60,000 and 100,000 undocumented migrants estimated to be in Australia, with many working fruit picking and other farm labour jobs.
The United Workers’ Union commissioned University of Adelaide associate professor Joanna Howe and the University of Melbourne’s Ankur Singh to examine virus risks for undocumented horticulture workers.
Their report found undocumented workers are prone to high infection risk and generating clusters.
“Undocumented workers have precarious living and work conditions,” the report said.
“These put at risk Australia’s initial success in controlling COVID-19 infection, hamper infection control protocols and pose measurable risk to the Australian population.”
Associate Professor Howe and Dr Singh found overcrowded accommodation, farm work and sharing essential facilities made it hard for undocumented workers to physically distance.
“Risk of identification, detention and deportation renders them unlikely to opt for testing and assist in contact tracing – crucial elements of infection control,” the report said.
It points to Singapore as an example of how low-paid overseas workers can spread the virus.
But Singapore’s migrant workforce is housed in different conditions to Australia.
Almost 200,000 workers live in 43 mega-dormitories, exacerbating a major infection spike which accounted for the bulk of the country’s second wave.
The union’s farms director Jannette Armstrong said the report showed why a visa amnesty was needed.
“This research shines a light on the high-risks during the COVID-19 pandemic for these workers,” she said.
“Giving undocumented workers visa legitimacy will minimise exploitation and ensure their work rights can be upheld and enforced.”
The federal government has rejected calls for a broad-reaching amnesty, arguing it would undermine the integrity of Australia’s visa programs.
By Matt Coughlan