Foreign workers face uncertain future in South West

As the Shire of Augusta Margaret River issued a notice to people in the region who do not have a residence here to head back to the Perth metropolitan area, one foreign worker discovered she had been evicted from her rented room.

The 29 year old woman from London, who spoke to the Mail on the condition of anonymity, said she was shocked to discover that she was no longer welcome in the home where she has been living since January.

She had initially planned to move to Dunsborough a few days ago, having landed a job as an au pair to complete her 88 days regional work for the extended working visa.

"Unfortunately with the pandemic hitting Australia, they had to stop working and of course couldn't give me the job, so I had to come back to Margaret River," she explained.

"I then received a bunch of messages and texts from my housemate saying I was high risk, and that I could have been associating with others who have been in contact with the virus.

"I was told I couldn't go back into the property and to come back later today to pick up my belongings.

"She did pack up my stuff very neatly, I'll give her that, but when I handed the key back she sanitised her hands straight away, you know?"

The woman has been living and working in Australia for 9 months, and had begun working at Margaret River based business Labour Solutions in January, when she rented the room.

"I've loved working in Margaret River, it's a fantastic community and I really feel, as all of us do, that we're a part of this place," she said.

"I totally understand that this lady has a child to consider and I appreciate that she had a tough decision to make, but there are a lot of rumours going around about foreign workers and backpackers, and it just feels very ignorant, very fear-driven.

"I'm absolutely fine, I am not infected and I haven't been in contact with anyone who is unwell or even high risk."

The worker headed to her employer to discuss options after she found herself without a place to sleep for the night, or indeed the future.

There she found the support she needed, and has received an offer to live with an employee of the business on a long term basis.

"I am incredibly grateful, and lucky," she said.

"I'm also very lucky to have a reasonably well off family who can help me from home with some funds if I get really stuck, but I'm also aware that there are a lot of people here at the moment who don't have that option and it is quite scary, being so far from home without any support."

Labour Solutions manager Suzanne Goodall said in a Facebook post on Thursday that she was disappointed with the worker's treatment and said more could be done to help vulnerable people in the region.

"This person has been a part of the Margaret River community since the beginning of the year, working and contributing to the economy," Ms Goodall said in the post.

"She has not been in contact with anyone who has symptoms or tested positive.

"She is currently sitting in the office trying to find a place to sleep tonight, and for the foreseeable future."

"Travellers and backpackers are not automatically carriers of COVID-19 or in any way a higher risk than a local community member, if they have been living and working in the area for months and following the government's safety instructions."

The UK worker said suggestions that foreigners and backpackers should head to Perth was not such a simple solution.

"I can't go up to Perth, they are closing all the hostels down and there is nowhere for us to go," the worker said.

"I have friends in the hostel in Freo and they're being told no one else is allowed. We know one of the backpacker lodges here in Margaret River was closed, residents there were given a few days notice and a lot had to try to get home quickly, out of Australia before the borders closed.

"I know a lot of other people up north who are experiencing similar threats and fear, people being told that if backpackers are found on the street the police will be looking for them."

Ms Goodall shared those sentiments in her Facebook post.

"The Shire of Augusta Margaret River has advised all travellers without accommodation to leave immediately to Perth to stay in a crisis centre - this centre does not exist yet.

"We have been ringing consulates and shires as well as accommodation providers for several hours."

Ms Goodall urged locals to "stop, take a breath, and come together" for the benefit of the whole community.

"We need to remember these folks are stranded far away from home, their family, and any support systems - this can be very scary."

The Mail confirms that Labour Solutions did not approach this publication in relation to this story.