|Issue No 110||07 September 2001|
Revealed: Migrants Face Hidden Unions Barriers
By Veronica Apap
Many migrant workers are not joining unions because they do not understand them in the Australian context, research for the Labor Council of NSW shows.
A survey of community leaders commissioned by the Labor Council has found education - and the fear of being punished - as key impediments to joining unions.
"For some people who come from overseas, in their countries, unions do not exist, so they don't exist here for them either," said Mohammed Issa a spokesman for the Australian Arabic Communities Council.
The report shows that in countries that do have unions the role is very different. Joining a union can often mean declaring a political affiliation, which can be risky business.
"The problem is we often don't go out and ask ethnic communities what they are thinking," said Caroline Pinto the research co-ordinator. As a result, many migrant workers are unsure of the function of the unions, how they can benefit or how to get active.
"Workers were often active in their home countries but don't know how to communicate here," said Jagath Bandara, an organiser at the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union.
Language is the other main barrier to union membership. "When I worked on a building site, the unions would bring people to the site to speak to us. But the person that came only spoke English," Issa said. This caused a problem as some of the workers only spoke Arabic.
Unions will use these findings to reach out to migrant workers. "We plan to get more active in community functions and events. We have already taken some steps and will continue," said Bandara. He says many people from Non-English speaking backgrounds are already joining. "About 50% of our delegates are migrant workers," he said. "Workers often feel neglected because they can't communicate with their bosses."
The LHMW Union will also get in touch with ethnic radio stations to get their message to communities. "If I could give anyone any piece of advice it would be, don't take anything for granted," said Pinto. She believes that the unions have to get out there and talk to migrant workers to help them.
Migrant Workers Forum
Workers from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds and their union representatives will engage in a forum to improve the working life of migrant workers.
The forum will be held in Fairfield - one of the most ethnically diverse suburbs in Australia.
Key issues to be addressed include:
- formal recognition of foreign skills
- employer under-utilization of migrant worker expertise
- perceived barriers to union access for new arrivals
- specific strategies to organize workers from different backgrounds.
- Caroline Alcorso - Sydney University
- Jagath Bandara - LHMU organizer
- Debbie Carstens - Asian Women at Work
Labor Council secretary John Robertson will launch a new pamhple4t promoting the benefits of unionism in seven community languages - Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, Korean, Italian and Vietnamese.
Mr Robertson said that migrant workers were an important section of the union movement, who are confronted with particular challenges and issues.
"The transition to work is an important part of entering a new culture. Unions are committed to helping migrant workers make that transiation as smoothly as possible."
WHERE: Fairfield School of Arts, 19 Harris Street, Fairfield
WHEN: Monday, September 10 10.00am- Noon
Interview: Cast Adrift
Ethnic Communities Council chair Salvatore Scevola gives his take on the Tampa saga and the underlying attitudes driving the debate.
Workplace: Coming to Australia
Jagath Banderra recounts his own experience as a new arrival in Australia entering the workforce.
Human Rights: Long Road to Nowhere
Iraqi refugees travel the same tortuous road as Afghans. The refugees on the Tampa have almost certainly endured a similar ordeal.
Immigration: Experience Required
Veronica Apap looks at the many difficulties migrants face in having their skills recognised in Australia.
International: Why Economic Rationalism Isn't
The CFMEUs Phil Davey surveys the wreckage after 10 years of Brazil's Government doing what the free marketeers want.
History: Johnny's Naruan Wet Dream
Rowan Cahill looks at how Australia's preferred refugee dumping ground's history is indelibly linked with our own.
Unions: Getting the Message Out
Caroline Alcorso argues the integration of immigrant workers into the trade union movement has been a central issue in Australia’s post-war labor history.
Work/Time/Life: Driven To The Edge
In the ACTU’S groundbreaking Fifty Families report there is one particularly sobering story. Frank tells how the modern workplace is driving some people to the fatal edge.
Review: Whose Party?
NSW Labor’s century of successes began in 1910, as did the “middle classing” of Labor policy.
Satire: Ethnic Wog Gangs Rape Everyone
People who are white in colour are being raped by people who are not white, an exclusive Chaser investigation found last week.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005