16 November 2012

Union accuses construction industry of abusing Australian visa privileges

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The head of one of the largest workers' unions in Australia has accused some construction companies of abusing foreign workers' rights as guaranteed by their Australia visa agreements.

Australia visa

CFMEU claim they have detailed accounts of construction employers exploiting the use of foreign workers.

Dave Noonan, national secretary of the construction division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), has claimed some construction companies are exploiting foreign workers - many of them Irish - by withholding certain workplace rights guaranteed as part of their Australia visa applications - particularly superannuation.

Mr Noonan says unscrupulous companies refuse to hire local labour, instead choosing to hire foreign workers and save money by abusing their entitlements.

"The problem we've got is that we are seeing a lot of situations where local Australian residents that have got suitable skills are not getting the opportunity to work on construction projects," said Mr Noonan.

"Instead we are seeing workers on a range of temporary visas brought in by employers to do work that could be done by locals."

Mr Noonan denied the workers were being hired illegally but 'are being used against the spirit of Australia's immigration laws'.

"What we think is that a number of the ways that workers on temporary work arrangements are being used is against the spirit of Australia's immigration laws. We have firsthand knowledge of large construction projects where entire workforces are on temporary work arrangements."

In order to address the problem, the CFMEU as written to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in an attempt to protect both domestic workers' rights and those of foreign workers:

"We've written to Chris Bowen, the Federal Minister for Immigration, advocating the position that firstly workers who are here on working holiday visas ought to be required to be in an employment relationship and that there be no doubt that sham contracting is not acceptable. And at this stage the government hasn't picked that proposal up."

However, Mr Noonan's claims are disputed by those within the construction industry, Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, says all programs designed to bring in foreign workers are 'rigorously checked' for exploitation.

"We have to bring in skilled workers at times to meet needs. This program is rigorously checked. There are proper checks and balances put in place," said Mr Willox.

"It's run both through Immigration and through Workplace Relations. People have to be paid proper wages. Proper conditions have to be adhered to. And this is filling a gap in the Australian economy."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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