Visa Worker Deaths Double In A Year

Visa worker deaths double in a year

Yuko Narushima
Sydney Morning Herald
November 18, 2008

MORE migrants working on 457 visas have died since Labor won the federal election than in more than three years under the previous government, Immigration Department records show.

Despite assurances that the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, was cleaning up the system, at least six temporary skilled workers have died since Labor came to power a year ago.

Three work-related deaths were recorded from 2004 until the Coalition lost office.

A migration analyst, Bob Kinnaird, said the increase was staggering. “This is a matter of life and death. It can't get any more serious.”

The minister's spokesman could not explain the rise but pointed to the increase in the number of workers using the scheme. Those figures showed the number of workers, or primary applicants, on the 457 scheme had doubled in the period from 2004. However, the rise in deaths exceeded the rate of increase to the program.

Among the six deaths this year were those of Rey Garcia Jardinel and Antonio Julio Guerrero Pili, electricians, who died in a car crash in Queensland in February. A Chinese welder, Lian Ron Xia, died from head injuries suffered in an industrial accident at Wagga Wagga in September. Details of the other three deaths have been withheld by the department.

The director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell, said the number of deaths could be much higher. The department relies on workplace safety investigators and employers to report job-related deaths.

“All the deaths we know about [under the Coalition] were the ones reported in The Sydney Morning Herald,” Mr Birrell said.

These occurred in the space of three months last year. In March stonemason Wilfredo Navales was crushed under a 300-kilogram rock. In June machinist Jian Dong Guo was pinned between two trees while felling, and later that month Pedro Jun Balading was thrown from the back of a ute in the Northern Territory.

The increase in recorded deaths since was linked to the source countries of the workers. They increasingly came from the Philippines, China and India, Mr Birrell said.

“The deaths would appear to be the consequence of the changing nature of the program where workers are drawn from developing nations. They often lack English and have debts to migration agents back home. It used to be about workers from western Europe, Japan and the US.”

Mr Birrell said migrants were also working for sponsors who were not “mainstream corporate entities”, in rural areas and higher risk industries, such as construction.

The department was refusing to release names, circumstances and exact dates of the most recent deaths to protect the privacy of individuals, a spokesman said.

Nor was it possible to break down the $19.6 million allocated to cleaning up the temporary skilled migration system in the 2008-09 budget to show just how much would go to speeding up visa processing, as opposed to monitoring employer compliance.

The Opposition spokeswoman on immigration, Sharman Stone, said sponsor obligations should be explained in detail before worker protection legislation was introduced to Parliament next week. These could outline additional costs to employers, such as topping up insurance payments made to 457 visa workers in the event of an injury.

The Government is under pressure to adopt changes recommended by the recent Deegan report into the 457 scheme. It said workers should be paid at market rates, not minimum salary levels, and allowed more flexibility in changing employers once in Australia.