Following yet more unacceptable cases of abuse of the 457 visa system, the ACTU is launching a Confidential Hotline to assist those who are being exploited by unscrupulous employers.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said some of the latest cases included a father of three, employed for painting and sandblasting, who was made to clean the office toilets, his employer’s house, cut the employer’s son’s lawns and scrape mud out of cow feed lots.
He would also turn up for work only to be sent home without notice because he “wasn’t needed that day”.
He said the employer yelled abuse at him and he often felt frightened to go to work. (The man available for interview with Filipino translator).
“Such exploitation is a means to undermine hard fought for Australian wages and conditions. It is basically illegal and leaves local workers high and dry,” he said.
Mr Oliver reiterated the union movement’s support for legitimate skilled migration programs – in particular, a system that offered permanent migration.
“This is an industrial issue, not a migration issue. Unions welcome skilled migration particularly on a permanent basis, but only after there have been checks that shortages are real and that local workers are not being avoided. What is occurring and what unions oppose is businesses undercutting Australian conditions and exploiting the system to deny local workers’ job opportunities and put skilled migrant workers in a vulnerable position.
“Unions are seeking to protect the rights of both local and temporary migrant workers.”
Another case of exploitation involved an engineer who was brought over and worked, without training, as a tube bender on machinery that was old and unfamiliar.
He experienced bullying and was on the receiving end of life-threatening pranks by his foreman.
“457 visa-holders rely on their employer for their visa, and for any future move to permanent residency. This means they will not speak up if they are being underpaid or working in unsafe conditions,” Mr Oliver said.
“That’s why we are reaching out to these communities. This Confidential Hotline for 457 visa-holders will put them in contact with union officers and government resources who can help them find out about their rights.”
Unions have been informed by Filipino community leaders that up to 70 per cent of workers from the Philippines experience exploitation including instant dismissal, bullying, low wages and are exposed to occupational health and safety risks.
“In the case of the sandblaster, this is tantamount to slavery. When he complained, he was sent packing. If you ask most Australians if they would put up with that treatment I think you’d find they would not.”
Mr Oliver said the confidential hotline would hopefully serve as a warning to unscrupulous employers. “This is a workers’ rights issue.”
Copies of statements by 457 visa-holders available upon request. The Confidential Hotline for 457 visa holders is: 1300 362 223