21 November 2012

Australian workers' union to help 457 visa holders

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A workers' union in Australia has launched a surprising new project aimed at helping 457 visa holders secure fair working rights.

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The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union in South Australia says it will fight for 457 visa workers' rights.

Workers' unions in Australia have traditionally been opposed to 457 visa programs - particularly on the large scale mining projects in Western Australia - but the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) in South Australia is bucking that trend.

"A worker is a worker. They are afforded the same rights regardless of where they have come from or what their background is," said John Camillo, AMWU South Australia secretary. "We want to ensure these workers are given access to our union and the opportunity to organise and bargain collectively."

Unions' criticism of foreign worker programs typically involves the notion that companies bring in foreign workers to pay them lower wages or provide them with fewer benefits than would be needed to hire local staff to do the same job.

However, Mr Camillo says the problems extend much further than just lower pay or fewer benefits.

"In recent years we have heard many examples of workers on 457 visas being brought out to South Australia on onerous and unreasonable terms and conditions by shoddy agents. Too often employers turn a blind eye and it goes unreported.

"In many cases these workers are intimidated by their employers and told they will be sent home if they speak up. They need to know that they have fundamental rights as well."

A fellow AMWU member, Jose Salveron, said foreign workers should have plenty of reasons to join the union.

"I think that the propensity of these workers to join our union is very high," said Mr Salveron. "We have a real opportunity to grow our union and help these workers at the same time."

"They may not know much about unions before they arrive in Australia. But once they are here, we need to make ourselves known and encourage them to be a part of the AMWU."

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