Guest Worker Loophole To Be Closed

Guest worker loophole to be closed

The Australian
September 05, 2008

THE Federal Government is moving to close a loophole that allows companies to employ short-term foreign guest workers for as little at $4.20 an hour.

Regulations will be introduced to change work-visa rules ensuring the workers are paid fair wages, Immigration Minister Chris Evans says.

The move follows an investigation by the Workplace Ombudsman which found 16 guest workers on an offshore gas project were performing 12-hour shifts on a two-months-on-one-month-off roster, and earning between $4 and $10 an hour.

“We have subsequently got the decision from the Workplace Ombudsman so we are going to change our regulations to try and make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again,” Senator Evans told ABC Radio today.

The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) had alleged Filipino construction workers laying a gas pipeline on the Angel gas project, off the WA coast, were being paid as little as $4.20 an hour.

“My members, Australian workers on that job, were earning upwards of a round $140,000 per annum,” AWU secretary Paul Howes told ABC Radio.

“These Filipino workers were earning less than a 16-year-old who works for McDonald's and that's a disgrace.

“These workers should get every single dollar that they would have earned if they had been Australian workers working on the same project.”

The workers were working under section 456 short-stay visas for a US-based labour hire company. Once the pipeline touched the sea bottom, the workers should have gone onto section 457 visas which require them to be paid award wages.

Senator Evans says new regulations will require employers to pay proper wages under the section 456 visas.

“It is to pick up what seems to have been a loophole that has been exploited in this case and maybe in others.”