Australia: Construction workers strike over exploitation of foreign colleagues

Workers walk off a constructions site in the Perth CDB

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."

Posted By

Feb 17 2011 09:27


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Feb 18 2011 01:22

What exactly is the CFMEU striking for? That the foreign workers get the same pay as the citizens or that they be deported? Given the CFMEU's history of calling the cops on illegal workers I wouldn't be surprised if it's the latter.

Feb 18 2011 07:36

This is a comment from a comrade in Melbourne who pays close attention to migration and border policing in Australia

The CFMEU, like many others, are always happy to use examples of the exploitation of foreign workers in campaigns against the mechanisms through which they manage to squeeze their way across the border.

Like the AMWU, I imagine they will actually fight to keep these individual workers in the country, and get them back pay, and all of that good stuff. In fact, I would be extremely surprised if they didn't do this. But it won't stop them trying to make sure the next lot never make it to Australia in the first place.

Feb 18 2011 10:24

yes, that is likely their position. there was also a strike on the gold coast which was more explicitly about getting migrant workers out. i thought this strike was interesting in that the statements seemed to be explicitly saying that the foreign workers should be getting the same conditions, and had less of the racist subtext you usually get, though i probably should have put in some background to the racist history of the union - if you have a link on that you can add it in or i can.

on the amwu, i saw this article recently. scum.

Feb 19 2011 07:57

Well, Ben and I wrote something about the CFMEU and border policing for Melbourne Black:

Feb 20 2011 03:40

Or, if you don't want to take our word for it, Andrew Ferguson from the NSW branch of the CFMEU is always happy to oblige with something overt and spectacular. This is from early last year

And to be fair, most of the Australian left can usually name Andrew as a problem - he is supposed to function as an extreme exception to the rule of anti-racism within the Australian trade union movement, when of course he is simply more honest about the logical conclusion of official union policy