Workers at a construction site in the centre of Perth, Western Australia, walked off in protest on Monday over the working conditions of workers on 457 migration visas.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union state secretary Kevin Reynolds said Chinese workers at the Equus apartment complex were paid as little as $12 an hour - less than half the $28 plus benefits paid to Australian workers doing the same work. He also said they had not been paid at all in the last week.
Of the total workforce of 180, there are as many as 50 Chinese workers mainly involved in plastering and ceiling work. There were also Korean workers on the site, while other workers from the Philippines claimed they were also paid less than Australians according to the union.The CFMEU had been raising the issue with the developer for "four or five months", Mr Reynolds said.
In response to the strike the Australian Building and Construction Commission spokeswoman said the watchdog had started an investigation into the claims "as per undertakings we gave (workers) last week".
"As part of these investigations, the ABCC has today issued notices to a number of sub-contractors on the site, demanding documents and records under (the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act)," she said.
However, Mr Reynolds said such investigations often took up to 12 months to complete and "these workers will be finished and back in China by then".
"They can't speak English and we've also had others who complained of not getting back pay. Our advice is that those workers have been sent back to China."
He said 457 visa abuse was rife across Perth building sites and the "carcass-brokers" felt increasingly safe, knowing their workers would be back in China before the ABCC took action.
“It’s obvious: even though 457 visa holders should legally be awarded the same pay and conditions as Australians, in reality they are unlikely to complain if they get shortchanged.
“These are people who owe their visa to their employer, so they will stay mum even as they’re getting ripped off."
He also tied the issue to a trend at construction sites known as 'sham-contracting' "with workers forced to operate as contractors so their employer can pay them less and strip conditions.
“When you combine 457s and sham-contracting – as is the case in Perth and Surfers Paradise at the moment – you get powder-keg conditions for a race to the bottom on wages and conditions."