By Ben Schneiders, Senior writer for The Age
Isaac Yeboah says he was promised the world to leave Ghana and his job of 20 years at a big multinational mining company.
On offer was a new life for his wife and three children in Australia and a well-paid job. Now, nearly 18 months after arriving in Perth and working in the mining industry on a 457 visa, he is unemployed, broke and surviving on the charity of friends.
”I’m feeling so disheartened, coming to the land of milk and honey. I’m relying on friends, friends have to give me $50, $20,” he said. ”I have been misled, I have been unfairly treated.”
His employer, recruitment firm Blue Tongue, has strongly denied claims that Mr Yeboah was poorly treated, but the Ghanaian alleges promises made to him, including about permanent residency, did not materialise. Mr Yeboah, a diesel mechanic, also said he had to repay a $9000 debt to Blue Tongue within six months of working here.
A copy of the agreement between Mr Yeboah and Blue Tongue lists him having to pay for his tools, phone, airfares, medical costs and passport.
Other African workers have reported similar agreements – Senyo Alomele also said he had to repay Blue Tongue $9000.
Both Mr Yeboah and Mr Alomele said they had not been told about the costs or the debt until they arrived in Australia. ”When he got us here he [Blue Tongue managing director Tully Young] told us we had to pay,” Mr Yeboah said. ”Initially we said, ‘What’s happening?’ and he said that’s how it is.”
Mr Young rejects this and said all details about working visas and repayments were clearly spelt out.
He said his company made no profit on the money lent to the workers and it was only to reimburse costs. ”We do not get paid back one cent more than what we loan them,” he said.
”All of these items are approved and agreed to in writing by all parties and we are compliant with all employment and immigration rules in how we administer this and they agree to pay us back over 23 weeks when employed in Australia.”
Mr Yeboah and Mr Alomele were laid off last November, soon after repaying the debts. Mr Young said any link between the two issues was ”grossly incorrect” and there were issues with their work at the mining firm where they had been placed.
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said there needed to be greater scrutiny of the role of agents and labour hire firms in bringing workers from overseas.
Last month Fairfax Media identified up to 200 cases of workers being exploited on the 187 and 457 visa schemes. The federal government has acted with a visa crackdown passing through Federal Parliament on the final day of sitting in June.
Employer groups have dismissed claims of widespread rorting of 457 visas while some have accused the government and unions of fanning xenophobia around foreign workers.
Mr Alomele said he was out of work for four months since being laid off and since then he has had only a month of work. He is again out of a job. ”It was a terrible experience, it was very difficult.”
Mr Oliver said agents and labour hire firms were benefiting from turning over foreign workers to reap fees from both the workers and firms, despite the personal cost to them.
”There should be greater regulation of migration agents and the behaviour of these types of companies,” he said.
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