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Issue No. 217 23 April 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

Textor Messaging
Those responsible for communicating the union movement’s message to the public met in Melbourne this week and invited none other than John Howard’s master pollster to give his perspective. The spooky thing was his message to unions was an optimistic one.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Terror Australis
The Howard Government has just discovered the nation's ports are a terrorist target. The International Transport Federation's Dean Summers has been warning them for years.

Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Hidden in the Australian Workers Union Sydney office is a mild-mannered industrial officer who once strutted the international cricket stage, writes Jim Marr.

Industrial: The Hell of Troy
On the basis of a couple of hours in the witness box, Building Industry Royal Commissioner Terence Cole described Troy Stratti as "credible". Six men who, together, have known the company director for the best part of 50 years beg to differ.

Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Traditional unions are rediscovering the power of grassroots organising. Paddy Gorman reports from the coal face.

Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
Evan Jones argues that economic policy making has been narrowed and rendered mechanistic and antiseptic.

History: Vicious Old Lady
Despite its Liberal leanings, the Sydney Morning Herald has never been shy of bashing unions, writes Neale Towart.

International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Thailand must end its crackdown on Burmese fleeing rights abuses in their military-ruled homeland, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Review: War Unfogged
Want to go to war but not sure where to start? Look no further than Errol Morris' latest doco-drama for the definitive 11-step lesson plan, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: TAFE
A TAFE student struggling under the weight of fees shares his wordly wisdom

N E W S

 "Slave Labour" in WA Revolt

 Vaile Orange – 200 Punted

 Right Turn Ends in Court

 Premier on Track to Nowhere

 Bosses Unite Against Holidays

 Miners Stand Up to "Bullies"

 All Out in the Gong

 Zoo Poo Stink

 Feared Beard in Shipping Scare

 Mayday … Footy Player Celebrates

 Teachers Roll Up for Discipline

 De-Skilling Australia

 Activists What’s On!

C O L U M N S

Postcard
A Voice for Peace
Palestinian trade union leader calls on militants to lay down their arms while the ICFTU protests harassment of Palestinian union leader.

The Soapbox
The Double Standard Bearers
Nicholas Way argues that when it comes to collective action, the Howard Government has different views depending on whether you are a unionist or a small business.

The Locker Room
The Fine Print
While the result mightn’t be everything, it does make the back of the newspaper more interesting, as Phil Doyle reports.

Politics
The Westie Wing
Ian West crunches the numbers in Macquarie Street and finds virtue in deficit.

L E T T E R S
 More Than Cricket
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News

"Slave Labour" in WA Revolt


Twenty five South African tradesmen walked off jobs across Western Australia, this week, after the AMWU blew the whistle on a massive immigration rort.

The boilermakes, pipe fitters and welders – earning as little as $11.45 an hour at Pt Hedland, Perth and Kalgoorlie – rallied in the WA capital, demanding Australian rates and relief from oppressive conditions tagged to their four-year immigration visas.

One Pt Hedland boilermaker was earning $13.40 an hour, after deductions, alongside workmates on $44 an hour.

The undercutting of Australian rates and conditions reignites last year's furore in which Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock threatened a South African diplomat after she accused employers of using "slave labour" from her homeland.

AMWU state secretary, Jock Ferguson, says the 25 imported workers who joined his union are the tip of a "bloody big iceberg".

Labor hire cum immigration agency, Freespirit, claimed it had 1000 South Africans employed across Australia.

Unions say Freespirit and the powerful WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry are behind the undercutting of Australian rates.

One worker, a boilermaker who left his wife and children in Johannesburg under the impression he had a family visa, went public about his predicament last Wednesday. On Thursday he was sacked from Perth engineering shop, RCR.

Members of the group said they had answered advertisements in Johannesburg newspapers placed by a company called Australian Business Associates. They said the ads spruiked "hundreds" of skilled positions available in Australia.

They went to a meeting with a woman, claiming to represent both Freespirit and the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She told them four-year visas would be arranged and they would earn around $25 an hour.

When they arrived in Australia they were farmed out to a range of sites where all-in rates were quickly eaten away by a $1 an hour health care levy; nine percent super deductions; and 12.5% labour hire charges.

On top of that, they face $5000 slugs to cover airfares and administration costs on visas arranged through Australia's Immigration Department.

The majority said they signed to pay 144 percent interest on that figure after being told that, on arrival, they could transfer to more manageable rates on visa or bank cards. Without credit ratings, they didn't qualify for Australian cards and remain saddled with the initial rate.

They said they had been told, in South Africa and on arrival in Australia, that they must not join a trade union.

Workers said they were supplied with visas and told to find jobs. If employment finished, despite being sponsored by Freespirit, they had to find alternative work and report back to the labour hire company so it could shave its margin off whatever rate they had negotiated.

Ferguson labels the arrangement "pyramid labour hire".

"We have nothing against these people, they are workers looking to better themselves and their families," Ferguson says "but they are being used to undermine every agreement and every worker in Australia."

Organiser, Steven McCartney, said the South Africans had been so harshly treated they had risked dismissal to involve the union.

"They've stood up to be counted on this. They don't know anyone in this country but they do know they are being shafted by Freespirit, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federal Government."


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