voting

Top union official calls for votes for foreign workers in Australia

by Ray Clancy on July 23, 2015

in Australia

One of the most powerful union leaders in Australia has called for temporary foreign workers to be given the right to vote in both federal and state elections.

Tony Sheldon, who is national vice president of the Australian Labour Party and national secretary of the Transport Workers Unions, believes that people from overseas who pay tax in the country should be able to vote.

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Tony Sheldon says overseas workers who pay tax in Oz should get a vote

They deserve the same rights as other Australians regardless of how long they intend to be in Australia. ‘Only by giving migrant workers full democratic representation will their voices be heard because politicians and the business elite will have to listen to their demands,’ he said.

He also believed that foreign workers often pay more into the system than Australian citizens. For example, they pay for health insurance and often for their children’s education in state schools.

He would like to see these kind of costs, especially education, taken care of by employers. ‘Often this cost is borne by the workers themselves, effectively amounting to an additional tax,’ he pointed out.

‘If employers want to bring migrant workers into Australia then they must be held responsible for ensuring they can share in the Australian way of life. This is a nation built on egalitarian values where workers are equal – this right must extend to all workers,’ he added.

He also backs the idea of a tougher regime for employers such as a licence or public register that would create an extra layer of checks to ensure that they abided by federal workplace laws.

The TWU also wants foreign workers to be given mandatory access to union representation upon arrival in Australia so that they know their legal rights and, if desired, how to negotiate improved wages and conditions.

‘We need to get serious about protecting the rights of temporary foreign workers, because we should be fighting for this basic principle,’ he said, adding that there should also be additional legal protections for overseas workers who lose their jobs in Australia.

Currently, temporary visa holders have 90 days to find another job if their employment ends and Sheldon said this makes them vulnerable to exploitation. ‘Only by protecting foreign workers do we protect everyone’s rights to a job with dignity. If we fail to do this our kids, our neighbours and our communities are doomed to have their lives also degraded by substandard work,’ he added.

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