||Issue No. 312||23 June 2006|
Striking Out Rights
Interview: Rock Solid
Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Politics: The Johnnie Code
Energy: Fission Fantasies
History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
International: Closer to Home
Economics: Taking the Fizz
Unions: Stronger Together
Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Poetry: Fair Go Gone
The Locker Room
Safety Standards Go East
Despite safety improvement notices from Workcover, no workers comp premiums, and admissions of “payment irregularities”, the federal government has given Hunan Industrial Equipment Installation the greenlight to operate in Australia.
Now the state-controlled labour hire company is hawking itself around Sydney construction and manufacturing bosses on the basis that low-paid Chinese can slash their labour costs.
Hunan is using 24 Chinese workers on Section 457 visas to install a $60 million machine for ABC Tissues at Weatherill Park in Sydney's west.
It has no registered office in Australia and cannot be prosecuted under Australian law.
AMWU officials blew the whistle after being tipped off by members who had been brought in to train the "skilled" Chinese.
State secretary, Paul Bastian, said their first concern had been safety.
He said Hunan hadn't been paying Workers Compensation premiums and that employees, who didn't speak English, had no idea of safety procedures or warnings.
"The bottom line for the AMWU is that lives are precious," Bastian said.
"I'm sure the family of a dead Chinese worker would be just as devastated about its loss as an Australian family.
"There is a whole list of safety issues that start with the inability to speak English and include the use of tools, and safety equipment, that doesn't meet Australian standards.
"Our people have identified unsafe work practices, including a lack of fall protection."
Bastian says the use of a Chinese labour hire company, with no Australian legal responsibilities, to undercut wages and conditions takes 457 exploitation to a new low.
The AMWU is demanding an urgent inquiry into guest labour visas, introduced by the federal government to hold down wages, according to Immigration Minister Amanada Vanstone.
It wants the inquiry to address three priority issues:
- does Australia need long-stay guest labour, and, if so,
- what checks and balances are needed to ensure workers are not exploited
- how effective safety and skills training and monitoring regimes can be implemented
Bastian says no system will work, for locals or guest workers, unless employers are required to register in Australia so they are covered by domestic laws.
One Workcover notice issued, last month, and reprinted by the Australian Financial Review, read: "Persons working on-site are unable to speak or read English and are unable to read or follow the Site Evacuation Plan or Site Specific Occupational Health and Safety Management Plan."
ABC contracted the installation of the tissue making machine to Italian company, A Celli which, in turn, let the labour contract to Hunan Industrial Equipment Installation.
Hunan has assured the AMWU it is paying award wages but, Bastian says, those legal minimums fall far below going rates.
Even so, he said, Chinese workers, has disputed their employers' claim.
"They told us they are being paid Chinese rates and expect to receive bonuses when they get back home," Bastian said.
"These people need some legal protections. At the moment, they are entirely at the mercy of the employer. If they complain or visit authorities, they can be sent home immediately, no questions asked.
"They have no rights at all."
Vanstone confirmed her department had discovered "payment irregularities" to Hunan "visa holders" but said visas would not be cancelled.
Meanwhile, China will press for complete access to Australian jobs for its nationals in free trade negotiations with Canberra.
China wants the visa system opened up to give its people access to skilled and unskilled Australian jobs.
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