Welder Says (Australian) Work Scheme Is A Scam

Welder says work scheme is a scam
The Age
Michael Bachelard
July 15, 2006

South Korean welder Kim Min Kuk ponders his future after being sacked by a labour hire company.
Photo: Tony Ashby

KIM Min Kuk cites familiar reasons for his desire to migrate to Australia. “Lifestyle, good country, relaxing,” the skilled welder explains.

But Mr Kim came here as a skilled guest worker under a subclass 457 temporary business visa. He claims that his employer, Kyung Sam Na, who runs a labour hire firm called KSN Engineering, misled, underpaid and then sacked him.

Without a job, his visa was cancelled late last month and the Department of Immigration is about to deport him.

Mr Na still employs dozens of other Koreans to work in West Australian engineering companies, but others have been retrenched. Many are desperately unhappy but afraid to speak up.

When Sam Na interviewed these workers in their home country last September, he tested their skills, hired them and promised to pay up $100,000 in wages, to work for between one and four years. Most attractive, though, was the promise of permanent residency.

Mr Kim and many others agreed to pay $8000 for a job. Some uprooted their families to come here. The migrants say they paid their own air fares (illegal under DIMA's guidelines), their visas, health checks, paperwork and translation.

On arrival last November, they were taken to a house in South Perth, which is owned by Mr Na. They paid $10 each per night to sleep on the floor.

Mr Kim says Mr Na also asked for a $50,000 “bond” from each worker. He promised to repay the money after four years. In return he would arrange permanent residency, he said. Most workers refused to pay.

Mr Kim went to work at building company Western Construction. KSN paid his wages of $26.10 per hour gross. But those who could not pay their $8000 service fee in advance, had $3 an hour deducted from their wages. Another 30 cents an hour was taken for holiday pay and 80 cents for medical insurance.

That left $22 an hour gross. Mr Kim was paid no overtime. A DIMA investigation showed Mr Kim's gross weekly wage complied with the award minimum of about $15 an hour plus penalties. But the going rate for WA welders is about $30 plus penalties. At $22 an hour, Mr Kim would have needed to work 88 hours a week to earn $100,000.

Meanwhile, Mr Na was charging Western Construction up to $42 an hour for the men's services. When a supervisor discovered what his workers were being paid, he rang Mr Na and a shouting match followed. Western Construction responded by terminating the KSN contract.

A Western Construction spokesman said the company had no problem with the migrants' abilities, only that the men were being paid too little. They had believed Mr Kim was earning $28 to $36 an hour.

But Mr Na told Mr Kim that Western Construction had sacked him “because he had asked about his wage”.

On February 15, he sacked Mr Kim, saying, “I don't like you.” But DIMA was told: “Advice from this employer (Mr Na) indicated that Mr Kim was terminated as he lacked welding skills”.

Mr Na refused to speak to The Age. Through his lawyer, he said KSN employees were now paid $28.10 an hour, and some up to $40. Some employees had earned more than $100,000 in the past year. He said the deductions were made only with the written authorisation of employees, and were paid to “third parties who are not in any way related to Mr Na or KSN Engineering”.

Mr Na denied ever demanding a $50,000 bond, and said he ran a welding school to fulfil his training requirements.