The Guardian 1 February, 2006

Filipinos treated as slave labour

Two guest workers from the Philippines, standing up for their human rights, have been locked out of their workplaces while another, worried about reported threats, has had to take out an AVO against his former employer. "Some Canberra restaurant owners are undermining basic democratic principles by taking this punitive action against our union members", ACT LHMU (Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union) organiser, David Bibo, said.

"We are reaching out to the Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, and to Dr Helen Watchirs, at the ACT Human Rights Office, to stand with us and defend the ACT’s ground-breaking human rights laws.

"If each time someone makes a complaint to the new Human Rights Office they can be punished in this way then their basic rights to use our legal processes are undermined. To protect these workers the LHMU will seek an interim injunction from the Human Rights Office", David Bibo said.

One of the guest workers — Donabella Cruz — who asked the LHMU to lodge a claim with the ACT Human Rights Office and a colleague — Napoleon Arrieta — were contacted within hours of the complaint being lodged and told they were now locked out of their own workplaces.

Now, at the request of Filipino workers, the LHMU will soon lodge further complaints with the Human Rights Office.

Meanwhile another guest worker — Dario De Guzman — has taken out an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) against his employer after he had received reports of threats made against him by his boss.

"The union is also concerned that some restaurant owners are now campaigning to have chef Dario De Guzman deported because they consider him a leading troublemaker", Mr Bibo said.

Deportation threats

The lockout and the deportation threats have come as a result of a union campaign to expose some Canberra restaurants who may be exploiting a guest worker program bringing in skilled Filipino hospitality workers.

The LHMU lodged three complaints with the ACT Human Rights Commissioner about the treatment of workers in Canberra on Friday, and served claims for underpayment of between nearly $6,000 and more than $16,000 on their respective employers.

Mr Bibo said that people should be aware that here in the national capital the laxness of the Department of Immigration is allowing this abuse of Filipino guest workers and that the Canberra community cannot look the other way while these workers’ human rights are undermined by these lock outs, and threats of deportation, if they speak out.

"We are appealing to the many responsible employers in the hospitality industry, to Canberra’s religious community, as well as the broader community, to speak out and demand decency for these guest workers."

The Philippines Embassy has backed the LHMU’s claims of abuse of imported Filipino chefs and professional staff working in upmarket Canberra restaurants and bars. The Embassy has lodged its own complaint with the Australian Department of Immigration.

The Filipino workers in some Canberra restaurants are working in slave-like conditions — some forced to eat scraps of food from rubbish bins. The workers have been brought out to Australia under a special arrangement with the Philippines Government and were promised good jobs and pay, but some have found these promises are being ignored.

"These workers are now owed tens of thousands of dollars — but are threatened with deportation if they stand up for their rights. They can be treated like a cheap commodity, shunted from place-to-place depending on the needs and pressures in different Canberra kitchens."

Davis Bibo, who worked as a chef in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years before becoming an LHMU organiser, said he did not believe he had ever seen worse conditions in the industry.

He warned that there is now an alarming trend whereby some elements of the Canberra hospitality industry increasingly rely on making profits by cheating guest workers from nearby Asian countries.

Australian chefs working in Canberra are paid under a Federal Award which treats national capital workers the same as their co-workers in Melbourne and Sydney.

"The Department of Im­migration seems to have created a loop-hole for the restaurant owners: deeming the national capital a regional area, not a metropolitan area. Canberra restaurateurs have been given a big dollar incentive to exploit these guest workers by allowing them to ignore the Federal Award."

Donabella Cruz is a single 34-year-old woman from Basig City. Donabella has extensive work experience in international standard hotels in the Philippines. This is the first time she has worked overseas and what she has experienced in Australia has made her reluctant to want to travel and work in other countries.

Thirty-five year-old Dario De Guzman, a highly experienced Chef from Makati City, came to work in Australia in order to provide his wife Maria Buena, his six-year-old son Gabriel John, and his five-year-old daughter Rafaela Dona, with a better life in the Philippines. He is saddened by the difference between what he agreed to in his employment contract and the actual working conditions he is forced to endure in Australia.

"The reality is that behind some of the expensive fitouts of Canberra’s growing café-restaurant scene there is a simmering culture of racial abuse, worker harassment and wages theft", noted Mr Bibo.

The union is aware of workers who have been:

  • forced to work 12-hour shifts in hot kitchens without a drink or a break;

  • refused medical treatment after suffering a severe burn; and

  • grossly racially vilified and threatened with deportation if he did not eat food scraps taken from a rubbish bin.

    The LHMU has begun a campaign to expose this disregard of basic human rights and dignity.

    "The Immigration Department should not undermine good job standards, they should police sponsorship agreements and ensure promises about working conditions are actually met and maintained", said Mr Bibo.

    "Unfortunately what these highly trained Filipino workers are promised for working in Australia is very different from what they actually receive.’

    Under the contract their employer signs with the Philippines Government the workers are entitled to receive wages and other entitlements based on the relevant Australian Award, but a number of their employers are ignoring this undertaking and are underpaying their workers by $10,000 or more per year.

    Overseas Filipino workers are an important part of the Philippines economy. They keep that nation’s economy afloat by sending home more than $10 billion a year. The International Labour Organisation says the Philippines are the number one exporter of guest workers in the world.

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