||Issue No. 214||26 March 2004|
The Security Shift
Interview: Baby Bust
Safety: Dust To Dust
Bad Boss: Shaming in Print
National Focus: Work's Cripplin' Us
International: Bulk Bullies
History: The Battle for Kelly's Bush
Economics: Aid, Trade And Oil
Review: The Art Of Work
Poetry: Sew His Lips Together
But Will He Get the Trains To Run On Time?
Uniting For Peace
‘Racist Throwback’ on Rail Project
Unions on the Traralgon-Melbourne arm of the state’s Very Fast Rail Project have discovered at least 19 Aboriginal and Kanaky-descended being short-changed by labour hire outfit, Skilled Engineering.
Gippsland Trades and Labour Council leader John Parker says when the project delegate came across the Queenslanders, they were sharing pies and sandwiches, unaware they could use smoko rooms or toilet facilities.
The Queenslanders were sleeping in cars or bunking in caravan parks. One was wearing size 9 1/2 work boots although his foot size was 11.
Many had been hired by Skilled under the terms of Federal Government's STEPS program, providing employers with $4500-a-head bounties. "It's Government's way of getting them off the dole," Parker says.
Investigations by project unions - the AMWU, CFMEU and RTBU - revealed they had been underpaid at least $4 an hour on the project rate and, worse, had spent three weeks with no incomes at all.
Contrary to the project agreement, they had been laid off and not offered work for at least eight days when they made contact with unions. Another group, apparently, had been flown south, put through medicals, then told they were not wanted.
"You imagine hungry construction workers who haven't been paid for three weeks. They were fairly hostile and there was talk of them going into Traralgon to have it out with Skilled," Parker says.
The unions have won back pay for the Queenslanders, including living away from allowance of around $400 a week; guarantees of at least six weeks on full pay; as well as commitments to fly them home at the end of their contracts.
Officials said while unions were fighting for local jobs in the La Trobe Valley, where unemployment is still 17 percent, there was "no way" they were going to stand aside and see the Queenslanders "exploited and discriminated against".
AMWU organiser, Steve Dodd, called their treatment "outrageous". "It was a throwback to the racism of the past," he said.
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