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Foreign Workers in Australia Win Exploitation Case

  • Phil Mercer

A group of foreign workers in Australia has won back hundreds of thousands of dollars after they were underpaid by their employer. The Filipino and Chinese laborers worked in the construction industry for a Taiwanese company.

The men were promised wages of $23 an hour, most of which they had planned to send home to relatives in the Philippines and China. Instead, the construction workers received as little as $3 an hour from their Taiwanese employer and were forced to live in over-crowded accommodations, including a shipping container.

Investigators say those affected included more than 40 Filipino and Chinese workers on three separate building projects.

Their case was taken up by Australia’s construction union, which took their grievances to the Fair Work Ombudsman, an independent agency that enforces employment laws.

It has awarded the men $338,000 in back pay that the Taiwanese company, Chia Tung, must reimburse.

Trade unions believe that the exploitation of foreign labor is rife in Australia. Many workers are granted what are called “457 visas,” which allow them to work for up to four years.

“This is a situation where workers on 457 and other temporary visa workers have been grossly exploited by the contractor. I think lots of companies are getting away with ripping off workers on temporary visas. This is a growing phenomenon and sadly we will see more of it,” said Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the Construction Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

Temporary foreign workers are vital to parts of the Australian economy, including construction and agriculture.

In February, the government expanded the Seasonal Worker Program that offers jobs to more 4,000 people from the South Pacific and East Timor.

But the program has prompted concerns about exploitation, including the treatment of Tongan fruit pickers on the island sate of Tasmania. The Fair Work Ombudsman is halfway through a three-year investigation into Australia’s fruit and vegetable growing industries.

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