||Issue No. 323||08 September 2006|
Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
Unions: Industrial Wasteland
International: Two Bob's Worth
Economics: National Interest
Environment: The Real Dinosaur
History: Only In Spain?
Review: Clerk Off
Catch a Tube
Peking Ducks Safety Regs
State-owned Hunan Industrial Equipment Installations has 50 guest workers at a Weatherill Park site that lay idle for a fortnight, after attracting 40 health and safety violations.
Workers Online understands Vanstone's department has green-lighted another batch of visas for a labour hire company that operates outside the reach of Australian OH&S, labour and commercial law.
AMWU NSW secretary, Paul Bastian, says Vanstone's Department knows Hunan is not registered.
"It is a condition of these visas that employers obey our laws but it is nothing more than an honour system," Bastian says.
"Because Hunan is not registered in Australia penalties cannot be applied under Australian law.
"It is disgraceful to bring vulnerable people into our country, pay them below going rates, and provide no enforceable sanctions on people who might rip them off.
"The only possible sanction is visa cancellation and that depends on monitoring which, clearly, is not being done."
Numerous examples of blatant 457 rip-offs have been drawn to public and government attention, usually by unions or publications like Workers Online.
None of them has been uncovered by supposed regulators in Vanstone's department.
Workers Online has been exposing 457 exploitation since 2002. Examples have included:
- Manly eatery Ribs and Rumps underpaying three Black South African chefs to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars each. The men took their cases to the Chief Industrial Magistrate's Court, won sizeable settlements, and were promptly deported by DIMIA. On the eve of his forced departure, Reevis Khumalo, said: "It is a bad thing, my friend. We didn't break any laws but we are being forced out while the person who did breach the law is allowed to stay and prosper".
- A guest worker being whipped out of Wagga Wagga base hospital and flown back to South Africa before authorities could speak to him in the wake of a workplace accident that claimed two lives.
- Another three African chefs, from separate Sydney restaurants, filing massive underpayment claims in December, 2002. They disappeared and nothing further was heard of their actions.
- A company, associated with the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, importing 30 tradesmen - boilermakers, pipe fitters and welders - and paying them less than the half the rates of Australians working alongside them. The men were charged $5000 upfront, to get their 457 visas, then slugged 144 percent interest on their loans. They were farmed out to industrial sites across WA. When the AMWU blew the whistle, their employer demanded written indemnities against backpay claims, and threatened individuals with deportation.
- Korean tradesmen in WA alleging they were conned into entering Australia. They said rates were grossly inferior to what had been promised, they were forced to buy cars, for $21,00 a shot on arrival, and worked up to 60 hours a week without overtime. Two Koreans claimed to have been sacked for comparing wages with Aussie workmates and a number were threatened with deportation.
- Senator Kate Lundy told Parliament that 15 Filipinos in the ACT hospitality industry had been bullied, underpaid, victimised and treated like slaves. She named three high-profile Canberra establishments, drawing fire from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry which rejected all allegations. With protection from the LHMU, several Filipinos laid official complaints, and prosecutions resulted.
- Last week's AMWU revelation that a Melbourne print firm had extracted $10,000 from a Chinese guest worker's wages. He had also been charged $10,000 for his visa. After working 60 hours a week, for a year, the company sacked him and tried to have him deported.
Bastian said the inability of imported Chinese to read, write or understand English had presented serious safety problems on the ABC job at Weatherill Park.
One Aussie employee said he had been stunned to see a guest worker make a non-compliant Chinese tool fit a power socket by stripping the cord and inserting naked wires into a plug.
Other Australians workers say their Chinese counterparts are, at best, semi-skilled and their work could be done by unemployed locals.
Vanstone mounted an aggressive defence of her Section 457 scheme on national television, last week.
Earlier this year she confirmed the four-year guest labour arrangements had been introduced to hold down Australian wage rates.
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