ABC Business

Faamanu came to Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme. Now he has cancer but no health cover

ABC Business logoABC Business 18/10/2020 21:05:50 By Madeleine Genner, Scott Mitchell and The Signal Team
a person wearing a mask: Faamanu Faamanatu started working at a New South Wales abattoir a few months ago. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC HealthFaamanu Faamanatu started working at a New South Wales abattoir a few months ago. (Supplied)

A man who came to Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme has been left with no health insurance after being diagnosed with life-threatening cancer because he can no longer work.

Faamanu Faamanatu, a 24-year-old from Samoa, came to Australia a few months ago to work at an abattoir in New South Wales.

He arrived as a worker on the Pacific Labour Scheme, a visa program that allows workers from the Pacific Islands to temporarily work in Australia.

His partner Tina Mati, who is Australian, said that at first coming to Australia was a blessing but soon he became unwell.

"He became very, very ill," she told the ABC's daily news podcast, The Signal.

After tests by local doctors for chicken pox and pneumonia he was airlifted to St Vincent's Hospital, where he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

The condition, which can progress rapidly, meant he was put straight onto a round of chemotherapy.

Falling through the cracks

When Mr Faamanatu was rushed into chemotherapy for the first time, his treatment was being covered by a private health insurer.

Under the Pacific Labour Scheme, employers pay a portion of a worker's wage into health insurance on their behalf.

But when Mr Faamanatu stopped earning a wage, it impacted his health insurance cover - in this case with Bupa.

Under the scheme he is a temporary visa holder and so he's also not entitled to Medicare.

This left Mr Faamanatu with no health insurance for his next round of treatment when he returned to hospital in August.

"It came back really aggressive, he's still in hospital at the moment," said Ms Mati.

"I'm scared that something is going to happen to him, I don't know what to do.

"I've been contacting everybody, like immigration, the labour scheme, they say, 'Yeah, yeah, we'll look into it', and no-one is doing anything."

The ABC has attempted to contact Mr Faamanatu's employer for an interview.

Treatment could save Mr Faamanatu's life

There are possible treatments for Mr Faamanatu according to Dr Orly Lavee, who has been treating him at St Vincent's.

"Any other Australian in this situation that presents to our department, would get the chemotherapy received, followed by an allogeneic stem cell transplant," she said.

"Without the transplant, the chances of survival are much poorer."

Remarkably, a stem cell donor is also available for Mr Faamanatu. His twin brother Manu is a perfect match; the treatment just needs funding.

But Dr Lavee said the cost of the transplant has been estimated at $120,000 and it won't be able to go ahead without the kind of additional funding that would come from a health insurer.

Mr Faamanatu is too sick to travel home now

The Pacific Labour Scheme began in 2018 and allows workers from a number of Pacific Islands nations to work in regional and rural Australia for up to three years.

The scheme has been well received in the region, according to Dr Tess Newton Cain, project leader for the Griffith Asia Institute's Pacific Hub.

"The opportunities for people to come from the Pacific and work in Australia are generally well received in sending countries such as Vanuatu and Tonga, which are two of the biggest contributors of labour into the Australian economy."

Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, said the welfare of workers who are in Australia on the scheme must be protected and that the Australian Government should urgently help Mr Faamanatu.

"Time is of the essence," he said.

"Mr Faamanatu is now too unwell to travel back to Samoa. The Government should step in and provide urgent assistance to ensure that he receives the treatment he needs.

"How Pacific labourers are treated in Australia affects Australia's reputation in the Pacific and thereby our standing with our Pacific friends.

"The Government must fix this."

Health insurance company Bupa said it could not comment on Mr Faamanatu's case specifically, for privacy reasons, but said in a statement that overseas visitors are responsible for maintaining adequate health cover while in Australia.

"When an employee stops working for an organisation for any reason, they have the choice to continue paying for their health insurance policy themselves," a spokesperson said.

"Organisations that fully or partially fund their employees' health insurance cover are required to inform Bupa when an employee is no longer with the company. Once notified, we contact the employee to let them know their options for continuing on their existing cover or moving to a new policy."

Mr Conroy said employers were responsible for ensuring health care for visa holders while they were in Australia and said questions had to be asked of the employer in this case.

"There are real questions about whether the employer has fulfilled their obligations," he said.

Ms Mati said she was scared that without help, her partner may not survive the illness.

"I want him to live," she said.

"He has a whole life ahead of him, I just want him to get that transplant."

The ABC asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment but did not receive one before deadline.

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19. lokakuuta 2020 0:05:50 Categories: ABC Business

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