A recent ABC programme has confirmed what unions have known for some time – temporary work visas are being used by many Australian businesses to engage workers on what are virtually slave labour conditions.
The Four Corners programme focussed on migrant workers on working holiday (417) visas. It found that exploitation of these workers, together with bullying and sexual harassment, was common.
Such workers typically work on farms or in factories in the food industry, often for companies supplying produce to the big supermarket chains.
At a chicken processing factory, the ABC programme found migrants who were being forced to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
The report also aired allegations of unscrupulous contractors propagating black market labour, hiring migrants on expired or invalid visas. Some are paying workers half the legal wage, or as little as $3.95 an hour.
Unions say that urgent action must be taken by the Federal Government to clamp down on and regulate the entire temporary visa and labour hire system and remove rogue operators.
ACTU President Ged Kearny said that the Senate Inquiry that has been set up to examine the temporary migration system and particularly 457 visas should also examine the abuse of 417 visa workers.
“It is unbelievable that the Abbott Government is seeking to expand and further deregulate the temporary visa system despite allegations of exploitation having been aired for some time,” she said.
But then again maybe not so unbelievable from a government which has yet more attacks on working people and their organisations planned.