Visa Workers Sacked Over AWA’s: Union (Australia)

Visa workers sacked over AWAs: union
October 25, 2006 – 10:30PM
The Age (Melbourne)

Four guest workers have been sacked and face deportation after refusing to sign individual contracts that cut their pay, a union says.

The workers were employed on 457 visas as crane operators and metal fabricators for a subsidiary of western Sydney-based manufacturer Southern Cross Rigging & Constructions, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said.

“Three weeks after arriving here these workers were handed AWAs, told the Immigration Department required them to sign, and those who refused were then sacked and evicted from their accommodation,” CFMEU NSW secretary Andrew Ferguson said.

The workers were hired after responding to a newspaper advertisement in a Singapore newspaper and paying $10,000, their own airfares to Australia and $100 a week rent to live in a bunk bed above the factory.

One of the sacked workers, Rajan Kandasamy, gave up a job in Singapore to come to Australia and said he feels terribly exploited.

“They told me it would be a good job, with good money and that we would live in very good accommodation and have food provided,” Mr Kandasamy said.

“I feel I was tricked, because after I paid thousands of dollars to come here for this work I was told I must sign the new agreement, but I knew there was something wrong with it.

“Now we have no job, nowhere to live, and only four weeks to find a new job or the Immigration Department will deport us from Australia.”

Mr Ferguson said it was a clear case of unscrupulous employers using the government's guest worker scheme and radical workplace laws to import cheap foreign labour instead of employing local workers with appropriate pay rates and conditions.

“The failure of the Howard government to act on the abuse of 457 visas by employers demonstrates that the government is complicit in this systematic abuse of overseas workers,” Mr Ferguson said.

The workers contacted the CFMEU for help following advice from local members of the Indian community.

The federal government has been forced to defend the controversial 457 skilled visa scheme in recent months following a series of abuses of foreign workers exposed by the media and unions.

Labor has pounced on evidence of guest workers being underpaid and exploited at various companies across the country to argue the government was using the program to drive down wage standards and rob local workers of a job.

But the government has stood by the scheme and proudly advertised the growing number of employers relying on the visa to plug skills shortages.

However the Department of Immigration's annual report, tabled in parliament earlier this month, showed it was not keeping up with the explosion in 457 guest workers.

Compliance checks on guest worker visa sponsors have plummeted by more than one third in the past three years as the number of sponsors increased from 457 in 2003/04 to 39,530 in 2005/06.