Tongan seasonal worker dies in Queensland

A Tongan man in Queensland with the government-run Seasonal Worker Program has become the 14th person to die while working on the controversial scheme.

The 35-year-old man had been working on a farm in the Bundaberg region and is believed to have been discovered dead in his accommodation early Thursday morning.

The death comes just weeks after a special investigation by The Courier-Mail revealed 13 workers had died on the Seasonal Worker Program, with extreme neglect allegedly contributing to a number of deaths and serious injuries.

A Queensland Police spokesman said officers were called to the property shortly before 7am on Thursday.

He said that at this stage the death was non-suspicious, and that an autopsy would be performed to identify the cause of death.

The Tongan community will hold a memorial service in Bundaberg.

Designed to alleviate labour shortages on Australian farms and provide foreign aid for Pacific nations, the Seasonal Worker Program began as a pilot in 2009.

There have been 13 deaths since the program became official in 2012, at least eight of them in Queensland.

A Workplace Health and Safety spokesman said the office was aware of the death and inquiries were being made.

A spokesman for the Department of Jobs and Small Business which oversees the program said the government was “aware of the sad death”.

“We express our deepest condolences to the worker’s family and friends and the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga,” he said. “On (Friday), departmental representatives arrived at the location to meet with the worker’s colleagues and other affected persons.

“There is a Queensland Police investigation currently underway. The department will not provide further details in relation to this participant out of respect for the family and community.”

It is the second death of a Pacific Islander on the Seasonal Worker Program in the Bundaberg region.

In May, 22-year-old Sione Vakameilalo Fifita, known as Vaka, was working for a contractor at Childers when he became unwell and later died.

His family claims he was sick for about two weeks before his death, and his workmates reported he was vomiting blood but received no medical assistance until it was too late.

A lawyer for Vaka’s employer said he had taken the Tongan man to hospital as the earliest opportunity after discovering he was ill.

The opposition has called for an inquiry into the controversial program.