||Issue No. 299||17 March 2006|
For Queen and Country
Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Industrial: How Low Is Low
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Unions: Bad Medicine
History: Right Turn, Clyde
Economics: Long Division
International: Union Proud
Politics: Howard’s Sick Joke
Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Culture: News Front
The Locker Room
Howard's Holiday Secrets
Secrecy underpins the terms of guest labour visas and Australian Workplace Agreements. They come together at South Australian meatworks where the terms of thousands of workers, including hundreds of imported Asian labourers, are kept secret, by law.
The focal point is Naracoorte, where industry giant, Teys Bros, has locked out 20 locals for choosing not to sign pattern AWAs that strip their rights to an Australia Day holiday and reduce annual leave and overtime entitlements.
One locked out member of the Meat Workers Union discovered that when he reverted to the safety net award, his hourly rate was higher than on the Teys AWA.
While union members are locked out, Teys employs 20 imported Chinese guest workers on temporary Section 457 Visas.
At the state's biggest abattoir, Murray Bridge, around 200 of the 750 strong workforce are "guests" from Asia, employed on AWAs.
Meat Workers Union state secretary, Graham Smith, says the widespread use of guest labour is an "absolute rort", costing locals wages, condition and jobs.
He says the Murray Bridge region has the highest unemployment rate in South Australia, after being rocked by last year's Clipsal shutdown.
And, he says, government-enforced secrecy is preventing an informed debate.
Government policy decrees that holders of four-year Section 457 visas must receive $39,100 per year, irrespective of existing agreements or going rates.
But, that doesn't apply to regional Australia, where no earnings floor has been prescribed.
"Get this," Smith says, "for the purposes of these visas, the whole of South Australia, including downtown Adelaide, is a regional area.
"We have got no idea what these people are earning, or their minimum conditions, and nor has the public.
"AWAs are secret and so, in regional Australia, are the minimum terms for guest workers."
Regional applications for Section 457 Visas are triggered by endorsements from local Chambers of Commerce.
Theoretically, according to government and Immigration Department spin, they are only issued if skills cannot be sourced locally.
But, Smith says, Naracoorte and Murray Bridge prove that claim is "rubbish".
"There are not 200 skilled positions at the Murray Bridge Abattoir. At best, if these positions were all genuine there would not be a skilled Australian worker in the place and that is certainly not the case.
"As for Naracoorte. The guest workers are labourers but, it doesn't matter how you paint it, you can't claim to be affected by a skills shortage when you turn around and lock out your skilled workers."
The Meat Workers Union is expected to challenge the legality of the Naracoorte lockout.
Webcke Uses Fend
Meanwhile, Brisbane Broncos star and Teys Bros spruiker, Shane Webcke, has distanced himself from the company's behaviour at Naracoorte.
The Kangaroo prop features on the Teys Bros website, promoting the company as an employer offering "top-notch training", a "promising career path" and "good money".
"In no way have I endorsed Teys Bros or any of their employment practises," Webcke told Workers Online.
"They were offering local people jobs and skills training at their plant in Rocky (Rockhampton) and that's why I allowed myself to get involved.
"I grew up in regional Australia and I am all for local people getting local jobs, that's why I was happy to do it, but the relationship is over now."
On the issue of Australia Day, Webcke said he thought Australians got too many public holidays.
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