By Michael Janda
Updated Fri 6 Sep 2013, 8:04pm AEST
They are called the “king of visas” by some migration agents, but Nguyen Dung’s 457 visa made him more pauper than prince.
“The [migration] agent told me that I could earn $50,000 per year, but actually it’s just $15 per hour,” he said.
Furthermore, Mr Nguyen was supposed to be employed full time, but instead was taken on as a casual.
The [migration] agent told me that I could earn $50,000 per year, but actually it’s just $15 per hour
Mr Nguyen’s pay was clearly below the minimum wage of more than $20 per hour for casuals, and it also breached a key 457 visa requirement that employees earn at least $53,000 a year – a requirement designed to prevent the visa being abused to bring in cheap labour for low skill jobs.
However, not only was Mr Nguyen underpaid, he was placed in a job that did not utilise the skills which made him eligible for a 457 visa in the first place.
“I have a certificate of chef, he [the migration agent] gave me a job in a restaurant, and so I thought I can work as a chef, but actually I was a kind of cleaner,” Mr Nguyen said.
After about five months of part-time cleaning, Mr Nguyen was finally got some time in the kitchen.
However, when he asked for his pay to go up, he was shown the door.
When I get visa, I pay $10,000 and then when I get the job I have to pay more $10,000. Finally, the agent said to me after I work two years in Australia I can get permanent [residency], then I have to pay more $10,000 again
“In the interview in the restaurant, he said to me that at first I just earn $15 per hour, but when I learn many job and when I am skilled, I can ask for a pay rise, so I did that but they fired me,” he explained.
For all this, Mr Nguyen paid a premium to his migration agent.
“When I get visa, I pay $10,000 and then when I get the job I have to pay more $10,000. Finally, the agent said to me after I work two years in Australia I can get permanent [residency], then I have to pay more $10,000 again,” he said.
Mr Nguyen found his agent through ads on Vietnamese radio and in community newspapers in Sydney.
Research just published in The Economic and Labour Relations Review and examined by the ABC has found that foreign workers employed by other members of the same ethnic community are the most vulnerable to exploitation.
The research by Dr Selvaraj Velayutham involved interviews of around 40 457 visa holders from India over a three-year period.
The report is not a statistical study of 457 visa satisfaction, and noted that previous such studies had found more than 98 per cent of respondents were broadly satisfied with their experiences.
All [visa holders] we spoke to had the experience of ‘two contracts’ – one they signed in India prior to departure and an amended one presented to them upon arrival with far less favourable conditions
Researcher Dr Selvaraj Velayutham
However, it also observed that many of these surveys were distributed through employers or the post, and may miss some of the vulnerable workers with poor English skills that were most at risk of exploitation.
Indeed, Dr Velayutham found that while white collar Indian 457 visa holders, often in IT and working in large companies, enjoyed employment conditions broadly comparable with their Australian counterparts, workers in manufacturing, construction and hospitality were more vulnerable.
In particular, the research found that hospitality employees were in danger of exploitation because they often worked long hours with small groups of co-workers, and had little time off work to spend in the broader community to establish support networks.
“All restaurant workers we spoke to worked long hours – typically 15 or more hours a day, seven days a week. Few had time off, other than short periods between the lunch and dinner meal shifts,” Dr Velayutham’s report finds.
The research found some employees working twice as many hours as promised in their original contract for no extra pay – often earning the equivalent of the minimum wage for a standard 38-hour week even though the visa holder was working more than 80 hours.
“All we spoke to had the experience of ‘two contracts’ – one they signed in India prior to departure and an amended one presented to them upon arrival with far less favourable conditions,” noted Dr Velayutham in the article.
In one of the case studies, a 457 visa holder named Mr Lal was lured to Australia in 2006 with the promise of reimbursement for his travel expenses and a job that would pay $3,000 a month for a six-day week of eight-hour days.
However, when he arrived he told the researchers he worked an average of 17-18 hours per day, seven days a week and was not paid for the duration of his employment.
Mr Lal was forced to sleep on a dirty carpet in a closed shop nearby that did not have a toilet.
He was sent on two trips to India to buy equipment for the restaurant, and was not paid or compensated for the cost of that equipment.
Upon demanding compensation after the first trip, Mr Lal says his employer threatened to kill him and harm his family in India.
While on the second trip, his employer informed the Department of Immigration that it had sacked Mr Lal, and his visa was cancelled.
He was left destitute in India, with no realistic avenue of redress to recover his unpaid wages and costs and a debt to repay with no source of income.
The director of Anti-Slavery Australia at UTS, Jennifer Burn, says the Australian Institute of Criminology has identified hospitality as a problem area for worker exploitation.
“The vulnerable sectors include the hospitality industry, workers in construction and in some of the regional, seasonal work,” she said.
The vulnerable sectors include the hospitality industry, workers in construction and in some of the regional, seasonal work
Jennifer Burn, director of Anti-Slavery Australia at UTS
Ms Burn says new federal laws were passed in March to outlaw some of the worst practices.
“This amendment will criminalise forced labour in Australia, deceptive recruitment and also debt bondage,” she said.
Hospitality is an area that is already being targeted in an audit by the Fair Work Ombudsman for suspected abuses of both foreign and local workers.
However, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Jenny Lambert says the Immigration Department also needs to increase its enforcement activities, because dodgy employers are undermining support for the whole 457 visa scheme.
“In the small number of cases where employers are doing the wrong thing, the employer groups such as the ACCI would very much support increased enforcement, particularly in relation to these more serious 457 visa abuses,” she said.
“If an academic based at Macquarie University can go out and find these cases, why can’t the Department of Immigration?”
The Immigration Department’s own figures show accommodation and food services is the fastest growing area for 457 visas, with the number of visa applications in that sector more than doubling over the past year.
The latest data show there were 7,810 applications in hospitality in the 11 months to May 31, 2013.
The Transport Workers Union has been helping Nguyen Dung, and its national secretary Tony Sheldon says he is disturbed by the surge in 457 visas for hospitality jobs.
“The Bureau of Statistics tells us that spending in hotels and restaurants has actually fallen in the last year by 1.1 per cent, but we’ve seen a substantive increase of hundreds of additional visas, supposedly as chefs, coming into the country every month,” he said.
“That doesn’t equate unless you’re actually exploiting more people, doing it to get cheaper labour and disadvantage Australian chef professionals.”
However, Jenny Lambert says there are genuine skills shortages for chefs who can cook specific cuisines.
“The Australian consumer demands nowadays that variety in their cuisine choices, so there is a meeting of demand for a wide range of offerings,” she responded.
“The 457 visa really needs to be available to that sector.”
Mr Sheldon says he believes exploitation of foreign workers is far more common that statistics show, because many are afraid to speak up, lose their job and have their visa revoked.
“What happens to Dung, he takes it up, and then the Department [of Immigration] holds him to account, his visa’s broken, while the employer who’s receiving the cash benefit of exploited labour continues to operate,” he argued.
Dr Velayutham found most Indian workers he interviewed were not even aware of their workplace rights in the first place, and did not realise that they were entitled to the same conditions as local staff.
A factsheet itself isn’t going to provide a cure for labour exploitation, but increasing the amount of information in the community about legal rights and responsibilities is critical
Jennifer Burn, director of Anti-Slavery Australia at UTS
Ms Burn says workplace rights factsheets in their native language should be given to all foreign workers when they apply for their visas or as soon as they arrive in the country.
“A factsheet itself isn’t going to provide a cure for labour exploitation, but increasing the amount of information in the community about legal rights and responsibilities is critical,” she suggested.
“A well-informed person is obviously more empowered to make a complaint,” she agreed.
However, any reforms will come too late for Dung, whose visa is due to expire in October, when he will go home.
Click here to view the article.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’).appendChild(s);
Comments are closed.