||Issue No. 226||25 June 2004|
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
Freespirit Severs "Slavery" Link
"The company only entered into this area on the invitation of the CCIWA (Chamber of Commerce and Industry, WA). Freespirit will not get involved with any of these programs again," managing director, Paul Rigby, pledged this week.
The decision followed AMWU claims that 29 skilled tradesmen had been imported from South Africa and paid effective rates as low as $8.60 an hour.
The pipe fitters, welders and boilermakers walked off sites around WA two months ago to protest their treatment.
One boilermaker said he was earning $13 an hour at Port Hedland, after deductions, alongside Australians on $44 an hour.
He likened his situation to "slavery".
The AMWU has been urging Freespirit to cease "exploitation" which secretary Jock Ferguson said "undermined every agreement and every worker in Australia".
Rigby signalled his agreement, through public relations agency RHK, as lawyers for the labour hire outfit granted the union access to wage records.
But neither Rigby, nor anyone else from Freespirit, was available to defend claims the eight paragraph press release was so full of inaccuracies it cast doubt on the company's real motivation.
AMWU organiser Steve McCartney took issue with the following Freespirit assertions ...
- "his company had attempted to be open and negotiate in good faith ..."
The truth, McCartney says, is that for more than a month Freespirit refused to negotiate at all. It hired a law firm and a spin doctor and conducted all discussions through those agencies. It categorically refused to deal with the South Africans as a group.
- "An audit has been conducted which found that the company had done nothing wrong."
McCartney says an internal examination resulted in Freespirt offering individuals settlements of between $900 and $4000 a head. It has subsequently demanded that every South African sign a new contract that seeks to indemnify Freespirit from any action arising from their employment in Australia.
- "A number of tradesmen have been offered jobs with other people in Australia but none of them want to leave us - so we can't be doing too much wrong," Mr Rigby said.
McCartney says South Africans are hamstrung by immigration regulations that prevent them working for a minimum of 28 days while alternative sponsorships are processed. Even so, at least two of their number - Ronald Oliveira and Ian Potzeiter - have already accepted alternative sponsorships.
- "Mr Rigby said Freespirit would honour all its obligations to the South African tradesmen ..."
South Africans have told Workers Online they were promised their wives and children would be able to join them once they began employment in Australia. McCartney says Freespirit is now tying applications for family visas to signing new contracts, including indemnities, with a wholly-owned Freespirit subsidiary.
Workers Online wanted to put each of those claims to Rigby but was told he would be unavailable. The person we spoke to at Freespirit also refused to supply a mobile phone number, or contact details for the company's Perth-based pr company.
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