Tulia Roqara hoped to make enough money picking tomatoes at a farm outside Shepparton to be able set up a pastry shop back in Vanuatu.

Instead, after five months of gruelling work, Ms Roqara will return home next week to her two young sons with next to nothing.

She was one of a group of about 50 workers from Vanuatu paid as little as $8 an hour under what is meant to be Australia’s most stringent temporary migrant worker scheme.

Speaking to the The Sunday Age from the caravan park where she has lived since December, Ms Roqara and her co-workers say they were exposed to dangerous working conditions.

That includes inhaling an intense chemical stench after spraying at the farm. It was particularly strong as they knelt down to pick tomatoes.”It was really hard to breath it in, especially when we start picking,” Ms Roqara said. ”I got chest pains and others (workers) got bleeding from the nose and the ears.”

The federal government-run Seasonal Worker Programme is supposed to be part of Australia’s outreach to the region.

Farms get access to a reliable pool of labour and workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste earn award wages far beyond what they could make at home.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

But these workers, from Vanuatu, brought here under the scheme by one of Australia’s biggest rural labour hire providers, Agri Labour to work at the MCG Fresh Produce farm at Tatura, west of Shepparton, say they were sorely misled, underpaid and threatened when they tried to join a union.

When they complained about the bleeding they were told by an Agri Labour supervisor to keep working and to use vaseline and cotton to stop the bleeding, documents lodged with the Fair Work Commission allege. READ MORE