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May 2004   

Interview: Machine Man
It�s regarded as the most powerful job in the Party, but new NSW ALP general secretary Mark Arbib wants to build a bridge with the union movement.

Unions: Testing Times
Unions are not opposed to drug and alcohol testing, but they do want to see real safety issues addressed, writes Phil Doyle.

Bad Boss: Freespirit Haunts Internet
FreeSpirit forked out a motza for a whiz bang internet presence then disappeared right off the radar � once it was nominated as our Bad Boss for May.

Unions: Badge of Honour
Surry Hills is home to one of the world�s finest displays of union badges thanks to Bill "The Bear" Pirie and a supporting cast headed by Joe Strummer, Mark Knopfler, George Benson, Annie Lennox and other seriously big noises.

National Focus: Noel's World
Shrill bosses bleat over minimum wage rise, union spinmeisters congregate in Melbourne and Tassie�s nurses take the baton from their mob in Victoria reports Noel Hester in this national round up.

Economics: Safe Refuge
A humanitarian approach to refugees and an economically rational one?? I�d like to see that. Frank Stilwell did, when he went to Young in NSW to look into the impact of the Afghan refugees on temporary protection visas who came to work for the local abattoir

International: Global Abuse
Amnesty International have joined the chorus against the violation of trade union rights in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

History: The Honeypot
To the Honeypot come those individuals anxious to get their hands on instant wealth. So it was in the early days of Broken Hill, wrties Grace Hawes in this homage to the mining town.

Review: Death And The Barbarians
This new take on coming of age films focuses on the coming of death and the dignity and maturity it can inspire among those touched by it - though not always easily in the overcrowded Canadian public health system, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Resident Bard David Peetz uncovers some of the unfolding mysteries of talk back radio.


The Soapbox
Rethinking Left and Right Part 1
Dr David McKnight, from the University of Technology, Sydney presents a new frame for looking at the competing ideas within Social Democracy.

The Soapbox
Rethinking Left and Right Part 2
David McKnight concludes the paper he presented to the �Rethinking Social Democracy� conference, in London, April 15-17, 2004.

Out On A Limb
Phil Doyle becomes the first Australian journalist to state that the Olympics will be called off.

The Westie Wing
In the latest episode, Ian West explores what Disraeli called "Lies, damn lies and statistics".

Message from America
Searing snapshots from a landscape of uncertainty have plunged the Bush Administration into deeper crisis, writes WorkingForChange's Bill Berkowitz.


The Mouse That Roars
A number of campaigns this week show how web campaigning is reaching a level of sophistication that is transforming it from a gee-whiz fad to a potent industrial tool.


 Casual Affair Costs Family

 Dob a Driver Strikes Out

 Crash LAME�s Smoking Gun

 Axe To Fall On Skippy

 Internet Replaces Crayons

 Young Lives Crushed

 Feds Move Goal Posts

 Telstra Baulks at Two Percent

 Crane Death Brings Fine

 Worker Breaks Unwritten Law

 Private Nurses Short Changed

 RailCorp Wrecks Weekend

 Thunderbirds Are Stop

 Activists What�s On!

 Justice For Victims Denied
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Bad Boss

Freespirit Haunts Internet

By Jim Marr

FreeSpirit forked out a motza for a whiz bang internet presence then disappeared right off the radar � once it was nominated as our Bad Boss for May.


That's right, in the wake of exposures from Perth, including "slave labour" claims, Freespirit's net presence has been reduced to zip, bugger all and, not a lot.

Look them up for yourselves. The footprints of the labour hire-cum-immigration outfit are all over cycberspace but, apparently, they've been cut off at the ankles.

This is what the world's leading search engine, Google, returned on Thursday, May 6, a fortnight after FreeSpirit was first associated with the South African tradesmen scam ...


Our site is currently undergoing maintenance.


Can companies who hire on working visas sponsor immigrants ...



Australia's Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs has approved FreeSpirit as a pre-qualifited business sponsor ...



... FreeSpirit assists all eligible travellers ...



... freespirit can assist in arranging an ...


And, on it goes.

Industry insiders say this is not the FreeSpirit way. Far from a meek, demure operation, they are aggressive when it comes to the lucrative business of putting foreign residents into Australian jobs.

Which takes us back to Perth, and AMWU revelations that the company was donkey deep in a scheme that saw at least 25 South African tradesmen earning as little as one third of going rates in WA.

FreeSpirit, the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Pretoria-based Australian Business Associates were named by imported workers as ringleaders in the plan that brought them to Australia.

Representatives of the workers said they answered adverts placed in Johannesburg newspapers for qualified tradesmen. When they arrived they were taken to the Perth office of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and required to sign pages of contracts.

Then, under the Freespirit banner, they were farmed out to sites all across the state where promises of $40 to $80K a year started to look rubbery, at best.

In fact, after a string of deductions, the pipe fitters, welders and boilermakers found themselves working for what amounted to between $11 and $14 an hour.

One boilermaker, at Port Hedland, said he was getting $13.40 an hour, after deductions, alongside workmates on $44 an hour union-negotiated agreements.

When another boilermaker went public about his predicament he was sacked from a Perth engineering shop the following day.

It revived memories of Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock threatening a South African diplomat, last year, after she alleged some Australian employers were using "slave labour" from her homeland.

The South Africans said they were warned, in the Republic and on arrival in Australia, that if they joined trade unions they would be deported.

The 25 tradesmen in WA have taken the risk and signed up with the AMWU which is battling on their behalves. When Workers Online went to press, not one of the companies involved in the scam had agreed to discuss the situation with the immigrants or their representatives.

Which may or, indeed, may not have something to do with Freespirit's disappearance from cyberspace.

Either way, the AMWU argues that Freespirit, and companies like it, are helping the Federal Government undercut wages right around the continent.

When it came to this week's Tony Award nomination, Freespirit's silence spoke volumes.


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