||Issue No. 329||20 October 2006|
Sucking the Oranges
Interview: Cowboys and Indians
Industrial: Seven Deadly Sins
Unions: The IT Factor
Politics: Bargain Basement
Environment: An Inconvenient Hoax
Corporate: Two Sides
International: Unfair Dismissals
History: A Stitch in Time
Review: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
"Guests" Stood Over, AMWU
The workers, who last week appealed to the their union for help over underpayment and substandard conditions, claimed their employer stood over them yesterday and told them the Prime Minister was on his side.
The welders were picked up from work as usual yesterday afternoon but instead of going home were taken to the offices of their labour hire employer, Dartbridge Welding.
Their boss Dennis Hickman denied access to union officials who attended at the men's request.
AMWU state secretary Danny Dougherty said the welders were held in the office for over two hours while Hickman made them sign the new contracts for their rental accommodation.
"They were told that they either signed the letter or they weren't allowed to go home, and if they didn't sign they would be kicked out," said Dougherty.
"The men didn't understand the content of the agreement, English is not their first language, and they weren't allowed to take the contract home.
"Hickman told them that John Howard was on his side in this dispute, that the Prime Minister was backing him."
The welders were brought to Australia two months ago on 457 visas under the Government's skilled migration scheme by Dartbridge, who on-hired them to Ipswich-based Kador Engineering.
The workers signed contracts before they left the Philippines, but were not shown details of their employment conditions.
Union representatives told the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission yesterday they were promised $40,000 a year. Instead they:
- were on $27,000 a year, about $15,000 below the industry average
- were accommodated eight to a four-bedroom house and direct debited $175 a week for rent , about six times the market rate
- were employed as casuals giving them no sick or holiday pay, despite being on four-year visas
- regularly worked 55 hours per week with no shift allowances or penalty rates
- were illegally charged for their own health insurance
Three of the welders were sacked this week after appearing on ABC television and appealing to the AMWU for help in improving their conditions.
"The government has allowed this to happen. It's a system that the government has put in place, but it doesn't force employers to be accountable," said Dougherty.
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has complained of a 'set-up' and told the workers they should have complained directly to the government instead of the union.
But the AMWU provided the Department of Immigration with a list of concerns regarding maltreatment of workers on 457 visas in June, and has received no response, Dougherty said.
Vanstone said this week that 180 employers, 2 percent of those using workers on 457 visas, were being investigated for alleged breaches of the scheme including inappropriate deductions from wages, underpayments and the kind of work being carried out.
But companies face no penalty for exploiting workers on 457 visas.
The most recent figures available from the department - for 2004-05 - show that just 19 employers were warned over employee mistreatment and nine were excluded from the guest visa scheme for improperly treating workers but faced no prosecution.
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