By Matt Peacock
Updated Fri 7 Mar 2014, 7:50am AEDT
Thousands of Taiwanese workers employed in Australian abattoirs are not paying tax, according to the meatworkers’ union.
The young workers, in the country on working holiday visas, work for major Australian companies such as smallgoods manufacturer Primo through specialist labour hire agencies.
The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union says the workers are being ripped off, working long hours for little pay.
What is worse, it adds, is that the foreign workers are replacing local workers in towns where the meatworks is a major employer.
Primo told the ABC’s 7.30 program that allegations workers are told not to pay tax are untrue.
Veteran slaughterman Robert Baker told the ABC that in the NSW town of Scone, the meatworks, owned by Primo, employs mostly international workers.
Mr Baker has been in the industry for 20 years but lasted only three months at the meatworks before quitting over safety concerns.
He now worries about the Taiwanese friends he has made.
“All internationals, 90 per cent anyway, as was seen when I first walked in,” he said.
“They were getting mistreated and underpaid. Just like anyone, if you do the work you should get paid for it.
“Regardless of whether you [are] international or not, or [a] union member or not a union member, you are entitled to be paid the right pay.”
According to the meatworkers’ union, Primo uses specialised labour hire companies to employ the Asian backpackers.
Scottwell International recruited many of the young Taiwanese through a variety of labour hire companies.
On its website, Scottwell says its principal business is the recruitment of Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean employees to work in abattoirs and slaughterhouses across Australia – now at 19 different abattoirs across three states and employing more than 1,100 people.
Ian Tam, who was recently hired by the meatworkers’ union as a Taiwanese liaison officer, went undercover at Scottwell.
He says the backpackers are being encouraged not to pay tax by using ABN numbers.
“I investigated this agency. I just [pretended] I was one of them, like a backpacker looking for job,” Mr Tam said.
“They give you a form to fill in, quick interview and ask you ‘can you work now?’
“They will give you lots of forms to fill in, including ABN forms. When you ask them ‘how about tax file number?’ They say ‘don’t worry about that – you don’t have to pay tax, you can earn money using ABN’.
“If [you do not] sign those documents you cannot get the job.”
Primo denies workers encouraged not to pay tax
The director of Scottwell, Scott Zu Neng Shi, was not available to speak with the ABC.
In a statement, Primo denied workers are being encouraged not to pay tax.
“Allegations of workers being encouraged not to pay tax are untrue,” it said.
“We do not employ anyone under a 417 visa … we do engage the services of labour hire agencies.
“It may be more appropriate to address [them].”
Joseph Chow from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office says there have been about 100,000 young Taiwanese people in Australia since 2004.
“Just last year there [were] about over 30,000 young Taiwanese people here. So we are very concerned about their safety. We are very concerned about their fairness to be treated,” he said.
It is a situation the Taiwanese government is now watching closely.
The meatworkers’ union secretary, Grant Courtney, has been investigating the plight of the international workers for the past two years.
“It’s systemic throughout our industry. We estimate that there’s over 10,000 temporary international workers who’re working from backpacker visas in our industry,” he said.
Allegations of sexual harassment at Scone meatworks
Meanwhile, more than 75 workers at the Scone meatworks have signed a petition accusing an abattoir supervisor of sexual harassment.
The petition says: “He touches body parts like hands, shoulders, loins, face and really any location. It makes us feel very uncomfortable and disgusting as he is our supervisor and agent, we are afraid to say anything for fear of losing our job.”
Mr Tan says workers allege the supervisor will touch them inappropriately every day.
“For example some part of ladies, you can’t touch them. The chest, the ass,” he said.
“You cannot touch it. If they say no you should stop, right? But what things I collected, that person, that agent [tried] to keep doing that every day. And the ladies keep saying no and nothing changes.”
Primo released a statement saying that it takes any report of harassment seriously.
“We have recently received a complaint … and have now addressed this with the individual’s employer, the labour hire agency,” it said in a statement.
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