Call for equal pay for migrant workers in Australia

June 4th, 2008 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 4 (IANS) Trade unions in Australia are seeking guarantees for migrant workers on the 457 visa to get the same pay and benefits as local workers as some say the temporary skilled migration programme has become a source of getting cheap labour from India, China and the Philippines. Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) national secretary John Sutton told IANS: “Workers on the 457 visa should get the same pay, benefits and conditions as local workers. The government is being pressured by employers to increasingly use the scheme for recruiting low-wage workers from countries such India, China and the Philippines.”

A report in CFMEU’s May issue of the national bulletin states that many on the 457 visa work excessive hours even to get substandard wage and gives the example of Mohammed Nayeem from India.

Nayeem, who is a metal fabricator, received the standard 38 hours pay for 50 hours work per week, minus the Australian $100 ($95) that his employer deducted for ‘accommodation’ (a two-bedroom converted office shared with five other workers). When Nayeem asked for his overtime pay for the third time, he was sacked and told: “I will break your legs and send you back to India”.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national president Julius Roe was quoted in The Australian as saying that “unions would push for greater regulation in the scheme to ensure workers weren’t exploited by employers who took excessive deductions from their pay to cover health insurance, accommodation and migration agent fees”.

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans has said a bill will be introduced in parliament later this year to better define employers’ obligations and employees’ rights under the temporary skilled migration programme.

“We intend to expand the range of sanctions that may be imposed on unscrupulous employers by allowing the department to pursue financial penalties against employers who breach their sponsorship obligations,” Evans had said.

Yogalingam Rasalingam, a father of two who arrived in Australia from India in 1987 and is the sole director of the Yoga Tandoori House Pty Ltd., was fined $18,200 for falsifying immigration documents to bring an Indian chef to Australia and exploiting him.

The minimum salary levels (MSLs) for temporary skilled overseas workers will increase by 3.8 percent, beginning Aug 1. For example, the MSL for information and communications technology (ICT) professionals will rise from $57,300 to to $59,480.

Record arrivals of skilled workers has made immigration the leading element in Australian population growth last year. The 2006-07 skills stream had 97,920 places, an increase of 0.6 percent on the previous year. As many as 16 percent of the skilled migrants that came to Australia were Indians.

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