Interview: Common Ground
Industrial: A Low Act
Unions: The Number of the Least
Politics: The Smoking Gun
Economics: Microcredit, Compulsory Superannuation and Inequality
Environment: Low Voltage
History: The Art of Social Justice
Review: Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Culture: A Forgotten Poet
From Green House to Glass House
The Number of the Least
Third World childcare workers and hairdressers will soon be exploited in Australia, courtesy of the federal government's controversial 457 Visa scheme.
Doors to the program, originally targeted at high-end professions like IT and health, are being thrown open to a range of employers who want to slash wages, conditions and job security.
Immigration Department stats show that in 2004-05 28,042 457 working visas were issued. Analysts predict another 70,000 "guests" will start working in Australia this year.
Well, the problem isn't skilled immigration. Australia was built on that sort of policy.
But people on 457 visas are in a different situation, with few rights, and no workplace protections. In combination with WorkChoices, the visa system invites exploitation that will have repercussions across the workforce.
457 Visas allow people to live and work in Australia for four years but they are tied to sponsoring employers. If they fall out with sponsors, they can be deported.
And they don't receive Aussie wages or conditions.
The program can't be analysed in isolation from WorkChoices which encourages employers to slash negotiated rates and eliminate long-standing entitlements through individual contracts.
DIMA has just increased the minimum earnings of "guest workers" to $41,000 per year, and, effectively, that's it. They can, and do, work 60 hours a week across six or seven days, for that money - drastically undercutting going rates.
Many earn far less and DIMA sits on its hands.
For at least five years, cooks, labourers, builders, tradesmen and meatworkers have been entering Australia, without basic protections.
In July, the Meatworkers Union challenged Immigration Minister Amanda Vantstone to release her own department's inquiry into the use of 457 Visas at a Murray Bridge slaughterhouse. Three months later, the critical report is still under wraps.
Unions have been doing what government agencies refused to do, helping people with little command of English and no friends or family to fall back on.
They have urged the federal government to tighten up its "skilled" migration program by ensuring "guests" receive Australian pay and conditions.
Vanstone defends the system and accuses its critics of racism.
Let's look at the facts.
Ribs, Rumps and a Bum Steer
Sydney, March, 2003:
There were tearful scenes at Sydney Airport as two South African chefs left Australia, after blowing the whistle on a guest labour abuser.
Reevis Khumalo and William Ndlovu claimed six-figure back payments from Manly eatery, Ribs and Rumps, after years of six and seven day weeks in its kitchens.
The pair won confidential settlements but, because the restaurant no longer sponsored them, they were deported.
"We are very, very disappointed," Khumalo said. "We lived in Australia for four and a half years and started new lives here but, because our employer did the wrong thing, we have been forced to leave.
"It is a bad thing, my friend, because it wasn't us who broke any Australian laws."
MaxiRorts in Victoria
Ballarat, March, 05:
Nine Aussies are denied metal trades apprenticeships when a Ballarat trailer manufacturer replaces them with a consignment of Chinese welders.
MaxiTrans withdraws offers to school leavers, and local unemployed people, after winning approval to bring in 43 welders on 457 visas.
The company pulled the pin on people it had already put through medicals. Chris Walters was one. He told local media his steel fabricator's apprenticeship had been shelved.
He called the company's about-face a "kick in the guts".
Canberra, Feb, 06:
Howard Government ministers wined and dined in a bar accused of exploiting and bullying Filipino guest workers.
The Holy Grail - home to Canberra's pollierati - is one of three establishments fingered in federal parliament by Senator Kate Lundy.
She said workers, imported from the Philippines, had been underpaid, treated like slaves, and subjected to racial abuse.
Lundy told Parliament a Canberra businessman had recruited Filipino hospitality workers, last year, and "sold" them to employers for $6000-$8000 a head.
Canberra businesses identified chef, Dario De Guzman, as a "ringleader" of the Filipinos and tried to have him deported.
Seoul, March, 06:
Koreans are losing their homes and having families ripped apart by unscrupulous Australian employers, according to a report on Seoul Broadcasting Service.
Journalists interviewed Korean tradesmen who claimed to have been lured to Australia under false pretences, by a labour hire company using Section 457 visas.
One said he signed a contract, in Korea, that promised $24.10 an hour but, in Australia, he received a flat rate of $15, despite overtime and weekend work.
When he complained, the welder said, he was threatened with deportation.
Safety Goes East
Sydney, June, 06:
Chinese Communists use guest worker visas to undercut Australian rates by hundreds of dollars a week, on a Weatherill Park construction site.
State-owned Hunan Industrial Equipment Installations had 50 workers installing a new press at ABC Tissues when WorkCover shut the job because of 40 health and safety violations.
Unions intervened to make sure safety procedures and signs were translated into languages workers could understand. They discovered the company has not paid Workers Comp premiums.
In practice, Hunan Industrial Equipment operated outside the reach of Australian law. It was not registered in Australia and could not be prosecuted under this country's commercial or OH&S laws.
Devil in the Print
Melbourne, August, 2006:
A print shop takes $10,000 out of the pocket of a Chinese tradesman then tries to have him deported.
The man said he paid an immigration agent $10,000 for his 457 Visa but, when he arrived in Australia, his employer told him he owed the company another $10,000.
He was required to work 56 hours a week for a gross wage of $752. Out of that, the boss took $200 a week, plus another $150 for rent.
After tax, the "skilled immigrant" was left with less than $300 a week.
When his first year was up, and the boss had his 10 grand, he was sacked and marked for deportation.
Death and Slavery
NSW, September, 2006:
A South African labourer, injured in a water tower collapse, was held as a virtual slave, the NSW Senior Deputy State Coroner found.
In a harrowing report into the deaths of two people at Lake Cargellico, in the state's remote west, Jacqueline Milledge said Stephen Molothane slept in the laundry of his boss' apartment on a piece cardboard.
"He often worked 11 or 12 hour days, six days per week," the Coroner said. "His wages were non-existent."
She said Molothane, imported on a guest labour visa, had been rushed out of Wagga Wagga Base Hospital after the fatal incident.
"Despite Mr Malothane being severely injured in the collapse, he was somehow removed from the hospital and flown back to his homeland. Mr Malothane did not want to be discharged as he was undergoing treatment," the coroner found.
Broken Down For Export
Melbourne, October 06:
Unions are spearheading the fight to save a Chinese guest worker from deportation, after he broke both arms at work.
Lawyers filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission, alleging Lakeside Packaging discriminated against Fu Zhi Hong on the grounds of serious injuries.
Guest worker, Fu, was forced to return to work after breaking his right arm in a fall from a ladder only to injure his left wrist when he was unable to properly control an electric drill.
Fu stopped work on doctor's orders. Lakeside Packaging responded by sacking him and informing him he would be deported within 28 days.
Wage slips show the 49-year-old was earning thousands of dollars less than the $41,000 annual minimum prescribed for visa holders.
In Their Own Words:
Perth, June, 06:
Finally, some clarity on the motives behind Section 457 Visas.
"It opens up the industry to other pools of employees, which undermines the unions' ability to exploit high wages amid the skills shortage," Immigration Minister, Amanada Vanstone, says.
Across town, a low-wage builder, with more than 50 imported Asian construction workers and applications for another 100 in the pipeline, is equally frank.
"If they want to change employer then they have to go back home," Hanssen Construction admin manager, Dick Smith, tells ABC Radio.
"I'm not saying they're of a lower level of intelligence or anything like that, it just seemed that they can do one task and not want to do something different until they're told to do something different."
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