Workers’ “alarming” health decline upon Timor-Leste return

Seasonal workers from Timor-Leste have dramatic declines in their health and economic wellbeing following their return home, according to Australian research.

The research, which is not yet peer-reviewed, found that while 87% of Timorese workers maintained their wellbeing while in Australia, only 37% could do the same upon going home.

“Our findings show an alarming decline in the economic and health wellbeing of Timorese workers when they go back home,” says Associate Professor Udoy Saikia, a researcher at Flinders University, who presented the research at a university symposium last week.

“Australia and Timor-Leste can use this research to better understand the experiences of seasonal workers after their work stays in Australia are completed.”

The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme allows certain businesses, particularly in agriculture, to hire workers from Pacific nations for 9 or more months. Residents from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu can come to Australia for work. It’s had more than 20,000 participants since beginning in 2008.

Saikia and colleagues surveyed 750 Timorese seasonal workers on their health and wellbeing, comparing them to Timorese workers who participated in South Korea’s Korean Permit System. They surveyed workers and their households in Timor-Leste, and workers currently employed in Australia.

“Additionally, the research showed that male migrant workers fared better in maintaining their wellbeing than their female counterparts, both while in Australia and after returning to Timor,” says Saikia.

“So it is also not surprising to see the research finding that 83% of Timorese workers expressed an intention to return to Australia for future work.”

Saikia adds that there’s high unemployment in Timor-Leste which is thought to be the main reason for the decline. Only 20% of returning workers are able to find work.

The research will be published next year.

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