||Issue No. 224||11 June 2004|
The Passion For Power
The Passion for Power
Interview: The New Democrat
Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
Industrial: National Focus
History: A Class Act
International: Across the Ditch
Economics: Home Truths
Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
Poetry: Silent Note
The Locker Room
Sick Of This Job
Office Junior’s Secrets
People Importer Wants Indemnity
The company has been at the centre of a storm of controversy since the AMWU blew the whistle on its importation of 29 boilermakers, pipe fitters and welders who were paid effective rates as low as $11.50 an hour to work in Western Australia.
The day after two of the South Africans, Ronald Oliveira and Roland Claasen, went public about their predicament they were both sacked. In the case of Oliveira, at least, FreeSpirit has informed him in writing it is revoking his four-year immigration visa and seeking his deportation.
FreeSpirit refuses to negotiate with the AMWU although all 29 South Africans have joined the union.
Last week it offered some of the men undisclosed amounts on condition that they signed secrecy agreements and deeds of release with a wholly-owned subsidiary that would take over their sponsorships.
Their new employer would be FSP Technical Pty Ltd of 36 Clarence St, Sydney.
The deeds require the South Africans to release FreeSpirit from "all claims and actions in relation to the employment relationship".
Workers Online understands FreeSpirit argues its only salary obligation to the skilled tradesmen is to meet the minimum $37,820 a year required by DIMIA, irrespective of hours worked, or agreements that apply to Australian workers on the same jobs.
This rate, according to the new contracts, includes loadings for annual leave, long service, sick leave, statutory holidays, termination and other entitlements, as well as "provision for repatriation of You and Your dependents".
The proposed "sponsorship employment agreements" make it clear the South Africans are "casuals" who may be moved from job to job at FreeSpirit's whim.
"You will work for the periods and the hours required by Our Clients," it reads. "We will pay You no less than the minimum annual salary level, calculated on a pro rata basis, specified in Regulation 1.20B of the Migration Regulations ..."
The workers, already charged $5000 in South Africa for fees, paperwork and airfares, are required to make another "non-refundable contribution" of $650 towards costs of new sponsorship agreements. Many are still being charged interest, at 144 percent, on their original $5000 loans.
Workers are required to meet their own insurances.
FreeSpirit insists that terms of the agreements must remain "confidential", even after they have terminated.
FreeSpirit has been accused of engaging in "pyramid labour hire" by AMWU WA state secretary, Jock Ferguson.
His organisation is seeking to carry out time and wages inspections on behalf of each of the South Africans with a view to lodging claims in the Industrial Relations Commission.
Ferguson has written to other state branches in a bid to identify 1000 South Africans FreeSpirit says it has working in Australian on Section 457 visas.
Meanwhile, the AMWU is confident of being able to prevent the deportations of Oliveira and Claasen. It hopes to be able to confirm the identity of alternative sponsors within the next seven days.
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