||Issue No. 218||30 April 2004|
End of the Casual Affair
Interview: Terror Australis
Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Industrial: The Hell of Troy
Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
History: Vicious Old Lady
International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Review: War Unfogged
The Locker Room
Organ’s Manslaughter Pics
WA Bosses Duck for Cover
Workers Online and the AMWU, last week lifted the lid on the abuse of dozens of tradesmen, imported from South Africa and paid as little as one-third of going rates.
The AMWU fingered three companies - labour hire outfit Freespirit, the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Pretoria-based Australian Business Associates - as ringleaders of a scheme that pays qualified boilermakers, pipe fitter and welders as little $11.45 an hour, after expenses.
In the wake of the revelations, Freespirit hired a PR company, Australian Business Associates rushed its South African representative to Perth, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry made noises about extricating itself from the scheme. But, according to AMWU representatives on the ground, none of them would talk to affected workers.
"They are all pointing the finger at one another," state secretary Jock Ferguson told Workers Online. "But nobody will take responsibility for what has happened.
"Freespirit has hired a legal firm and a PR agency. We have made numerous requests for meetings to try and sort this out but, so far, nothing.
"We want these workers paid the appropriate rates that apply in the industry and we want an end to unfair conditions that are being applied. At the end of the day, we want a fair go for these people because they are working in our country.
"Someone, eventually, is going to have to face up to that."
The union is also concerned by allegations from the South Africans that they were instructed not to join trade unions on pain of deportation.
When a boilermaker from Johannesburg went public about his situation, two weeks ago, he was sacked from Perth engineering shop, RCR, the following day.
The scheme was revealed when 25 South African tradesmen walked off jobs in Perth, Port Hedland and Kalgoorlie, in protest at their treatment. They all signed up with the AMWU.
One boilermaker revealed he was earning $13.40 an hour, after expenses, alongside Australians at Port Hedland on $44 an hour union-negotiated agreements.
Members of the 25-strong group said they had answered advertisements in Johannesburg newspapers placed by Australian Business Associates.
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 eaten away by a $1 an hour health care levy; nine percent super deductions; and 12.5% kickbacks to the labour hire company.
On top of that, they faced $5000 slugs to cover airfares and administration costs on visas arranged through Australia's Immigration Department. Most said they were being charged 144 percent interest on that figure.
Unions say the scheme is being facilitated by a Federal Government prepared to use immigration to undermine the earnings of Australian families.
AMWU organiser Steve McCartney said the South Africans deserved praise for blowing the whistle on the practice.
"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," he said.
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