Australia Immigration

Australian trade union insists it doesn’t vilify 457 visa holders

by Ray Clancy on October 31, 2014

in Australia Immigration

A trade union chief has hit out at accusations that the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has tried to demonise 457 visa workers and talked about how unions have supported short term overseas workers for years.

Dave Oliver, ACTU secretary, told a Migration Institute of Australia meeting that many 457 visa holders continue to suffer at the hands of unscrupulous employers and agents who take unfair advantage of them.

AUSTRALIAcitizens

Dave Oliver, ACTU secretary, says the organisation is out to advocate for all workers in Australia, not just Aussie citizens

‘For years now, unions have been standing up, not only for Australian workers whose right to jobs and training opportunities have been ignored by those employers who prefer to take the easy option of the 457 visa programme,’ he said.

‘For our part, the union movement is proud of the role we have played in advocating on behalf of all workers affected by the 457 programme. As part of the debate around the 457 visa program, unions often get accused of being xenophobic or playing the race card. It’s a slur we will continue to hear from our opponents, I’m sure. We will never support the debate being hijacked in that direction,’ he explained.

He pointed out that immigration is an absolutely integral part of the Australian story, as migrants have made and continue to make an invaluable contribution to Australia’s social, cultural and economic life.

‘Through their skills, hard work and initiative, migrants have played a crucial role in building the nation. Unions are particularly proud of the fact that hundreds of thousands of our members across the country are migrants or come from migrant backgrounds. We recognise and support the fact that skilled migration will continue to be a part of the response to our future national skill needs,’ he told the meeting.

‘Our clear preference is that this occurs primarily through permanent migration where workers enter Australia independently. We believe this is the form of migration that best gives migrants a stake in Australia’s long term future and it removes the ‘bonded labour’ type problems that can emerge with temporary, employer-sponsored migration. But we do acknowledge that temporary migration can have a role to play in filling genuine short term skill shortages,’ he added.

But he explained that for this to work, some fundamental conditions need to be met. These included Australians being offered jobs and training rather than cheap labour being imported from abroad.

He also said that when overseas workers are required on a temporary basis to fill genuine shortages that can’t be filled locally, those workers must be treated well, be safe in their workplace, receive proper Australian wages and conditions, and be able to join and be represented by a union, just as all Australian workers can.

‘This is also about ensuring that employers are not let off the hook, making sure employers cannot just take the easy option of the 457 visa programme without first looking at the local labour market and investing in training to develop the skills of local workers and ensuring employers who do the right thing are not undercut by those employers who exploit and abuse the 457 visa programme,’ Oliver told the audience.

He also outlined that cases of exploitation are all too common. These include 457 visa workers having half their salary deducted by their sponsoring employer to pay for migration agent fees on the promise of getting permanent residency.

Other cases have seen exorbitant charges and interest payments of up to 48% on loans for 457 visa holders to be placed into jobs. In one case, a large number of nurses from China were brought to Australia on the promise of getting a 457 visa after they received some English language training, but the jobs never materialised and they were forced to return home with large debts for the training and the agent’s fees.

He revealed that since the 457 visa programme came into place, there have been 12 reported deaths of 457 visa workers and all but one of these deaths occurred when lower English language standards were in place prior to 2009.

He also spoke about hundreds of 457 visa holders being underpaid, or not doing the job they were meant to be doing under the visa, or both. Examples include a visa holder who was nominated as a customer service manager but was found to be actually working as a cleaner, visa holders nominated as chefs and cooks but actually working as kitchen hands and visa holders nominated as café and restaurant managers actually working as waiting staff or casual delivery drivers, occupations that are not even on the list of eligible occupations for the 457 visa programme.

‘And even when 457 visa workers are treated okay by their employers, they are still treated as second class citizens for most other purposes,’ Oliver said. He pointed out that while 457 visa holders pay tax just as Australian workers do, if a 457 visa holder gets sick, they have no access to Medicare; if they are injured at work, they lose their entitlement under Workers’ Compensation if and when they leave Australia and return home. If their employer goes belly up, they are not entitled to compensation under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Scheme.

‘A rigorous system of labour market testing is absolutely essential if we are serious about the integrity of the 457 visa programme and ensuring the community can have confidence in the programme. Above all, it’s about dignity at work regardless of who you are or where you come from. If nothing else, that’s what unions are about,’ he concluded.

 

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