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Visa joy turns to misery with pay shortfalls

Date: June 24, 2013

 

By Natasha Wallace

Andres Bernal, who came to Australia on a 457 visa as a diving instructor, has bitter personal experience of the downside of the temporary skilled worker scheme.

While both sides of politics continue to argue over the program, Mr Bernal, 36, has had to accept defeat in a battle to regain lost wages against a former employer.

Mr Bernal alleges Sydney Underworld Pty Ltd owes him $16,000 in unpaid wages and entitlements after he spent a year working for its associated company, Dive Trek Pty Ltd in La Perouse.

He said the owner repeatedly paid him hundreds of dollars less than his agreed weekly pay of $850.

When he complained to the Immigration Department, the former Chilean navy marine, a university-educated film producer, was told he would be deported within two weeks if he left the company, as it was a visa condition he be employed by Sydney Underworld.

“The trouble is, the law allows these guys to do this and [the government doesn’t] help you either,” Mr Bernal said.

“It took Fair Work Australia six months to give me an answer and … the issue was, the [owner] bankrupted the company [Sydney Underworld] and I couldn’t get any money.”

Neither Sydney Underworld, which appointed a liquidator in May, nor Dive Trek, an associated company that is still operating and is owned by the same man, could be contacted as listed numbers were disconnected.

The federal government’s attempt to push through a bill to tackle the rorting of 457 visas and oblige employers to “market test” jobs before hiring from overseas is unlikely to help people such as Mr Bernal, academics say.

”The labour-market testing is to be an expensive farce which is going to see employers placing these tailor-made ads, and [the government] abolished that system because it was a waste of time and money,” said Mary Crock, public law professor at Sydney University.

Laurie Berg, an expert on migrant workers and a law lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, agreed.

But she commended the part of the bill that extended from 28 to 90 days the time a worker on a 457 visa had to find a new job before their visa was cancelled.

”Twenty-eight days was just prohibitive, and that obviously meant that workers really were aware they had to stay put,” Ms Berg said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $1 million in unpaid wages and entitlements for foreign workers between last July and March. It had 164 complaints from 457 visa holders, with those workers being repaid $285,915.

In 2011-12, 125 employers had their 457 visa arrangements cancelled and 449 had formal warnings issued, according to the Immigration Department. Only one was issued with a penalty, which was $5000.

A Senate committee reports this week on the 457 bill.

On Friday, the ABC reported that one of India’s largest IT companies, Tata Consultancy Services, which has contracts with Qantas, Woolworths, Telstra and AGL, has been accused of misusing 457 visas.

 

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