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Issue #1679      April 1, 2015

457 Visa workers left broke, homeless

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has come to the aid of a group of 457 Visa workers who were not paid wages for six weeks at Victorian building sites, leaving them broke, scrimping for food and sleeping on the floor of their employer’s office.

The AMWU and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) stepped in after a complaint from one of the Australian employees of Schneider Elevators, among 17 workers exploited by the firm.

The 457 Visas workers, mainly Filipino nationals, were left with nowhere to stay so slept and cooked in the company’s South Melbourne office, their food and belongings stored on the floor in plastic bags.

Schneider Elevators Australasia owes the workers at least $172,000 for weeks of work, but managing director Terrence Donnelly claims he has no money.

The AMWU has ensured those men now have proper accommodation and is organising food for them. This week the AMWU helped organise job interviews with another lift industry employer.

AMWU and ETU comrades from Kone Lifts also pitched in with $12,000 for the troubled ex-Schneider workers, who were given supportive applause when introduced at the AMWU Victorian Delegates’ Forum.

“This shows the cruelty of the poorly-regulated 457 visa program; these workers were brought in on a promise of lucrative wages to send back to their families but find themselves exploited, and paid well below industry standards,” said AMWU Victorian assistant secretary Craig Kelly.

Mr Kelly said with unemployment in Victoria at 6.9 percent and an excess of skilled trades workers, there should be no need for employers to use and exploit foreign workers.

The Senate has voted in favour of a new inquiry into the system of working visas.

The Abbott government also plans to allow employers to bring in more guest workers outside the 457 Visa system, for up to a year without any need for proof the firm has first looked for local labour.

When AMWU officials investigated, it was found that 12 of the 17 workers were fitters on 457 Visas, being paid well below industry standards.

Schneider Elevators has also been deducting its visa charges and a range of other building industry fees from their wages, leaving the men with wages of between $150 and $500 for an 80-hour week of work.

“This situation – without the union we are still in slavery treatment of our employer,” said one of the workers. “Hopefully we can find another job here. We came here for our family, to give them a better future.”

Next article – TV commercial producers to the table

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