Australia defends subclass 457 visa amidst immigrant abuse charges

11 September 2006


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While bitter debate over the use of skilled temporary workers continues in the Australian Parliament, a conservative think tank issued a report arguing against importing Pacific islanders as guest workers for the labour-starved horticultural industry.

In particular, a case was revealed where a Chinese worker in Melbourne had been forced to pay his employer $10,000, a further $10,000 to a Chinese agent and had then been underpaid by about $400 a week before being sacked and evicted.

Exploited Chinese immigrant Jack Zhang had proved how well the temporary migration system was working, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has claimed, because his complaint was being taken seriously by the Government. The Government ruled out any further visa approvals for the company, and has cancelled the previously approved visa of another sponsored employee.

Ms Vanstone stood by the subclass 457 visa under which Mr Zhang was brought to Australia, saying it was a "very valuable visa to Australia". "This case, in fact, put paid to the lie being told that overseas temporary migrants cannot look after themselves," she said.

Almost 40,000 primary applicants, many of whom brought their families, came to Australia on the visa in the past year.

The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Doug Cameron, said the Government's position was shameful. "They have been completely desensitised to human problems," he said. Under the visa rules, the harshest sanction is to prevent the employer sponsoring more temporary migrant workers. No criminal sanctions apply

Mr Zhang had worked 60-hour weeks for 12 months at less than the federal minimum hourly pay rate at the Lynch Street factory, and then, as soon as the $10,000 was fully deducted from his pay, Mr Tu sacked him.

Under the law, Mr Zhang is required to find another sponsor to employ him, or leave the country by the end of the month.

Employer organisation the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry had little sympathy, saying in a press release that "the trade union movement should be ashamed of itself for its scaremongering over skilled migration". Victorian Workplace Rights Advocate Tony Lawrence said he was "deeply concerned" and that, "these workers appear to have been paid less than what is legally required … which is a situation that cannot be tolerated".

A report by the Centre for Independent Studies to be released says allowing Pacific islanders into Australia as seasonal fruit pickers would be discriminatory and have little economic impact on island nations.

The report's authors, Helen Hughes and Gaurave Sodhi, both economists, were scathing of a World Bank report calling for such a scheme.

"The World Bank's pressure on developed nations to accept more immigrants, regardless of costs and benefits, follows its abandonment of the key role of growth of development in favour of welfare," they wrote.

The think tank's report said that backpackers are better placed to provide labour to Australia's growers, while the income Pacific island nations would receive through remittances would not have a significant impact on economic growth.

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