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Thursday, 29 January 2015

National Disgrace: CFMEU Forces Govt To Investigate $4 An Hour Foreign Workers | newmatilda.com

National Disgrace: CFMEU Forces Govt To Investigate $4 An Hour Foreign Workers | newmatilda.com



National Disgrace: CFMEU Forces Govt To Investigate $4 An Hour Foreign Workers



By Thom Mitchell and Chris Graham



The Bomaderry Ethanol Plant, part of the Manildra Group of companies
The Bomaderry Ethanol Plant, part of the Manildra Group of companies


And
you thought Workchoices was bad. Be grateful you’re not a foreign
worker doing construction for a company run by a BRW 200 Rich Lister.
Thom Mitchell and Chris Graham report.




The
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has forced the
federal government to investigate claims foreign workers at an ethanol
plant on the NSW South Coast have been working up to seven days a week
for as little as $4 an hour, while living in “cramped and degrading
conditions”.



The shocking revelations were uncovered by the CFMEU last week, at
the Bomaderry Ethanol Plant on the south coast of NSW. The site is owned
by the Manildra Group, a large Australian company and one of the
nation’s most generous donors to the three major political parties.



The Chairman of Manildra is Dick Honan, ranked 116 on BRW’s Rich 200
List. There is no suggestion from New Matilda Mr Honan had any knowledge
of the scam.



But the CFMEU believes the scandal may be just the tip of the iceberg
– National Secretary Michael O’Connor told New Matilda overnight that
the union believed the worker abuse was part of a nation-wide network of
exploitation, where foreign workers are being drastically underpaid and
subjected to appalling and illegal conditions.



Mr O’Connor has already notified federal Minister for Immigration
Peter Dutton of at least two other sites where foreign workers appear to
have been ripped off – at Narrabri in the NSW north-west, and at
Manildra (the town) in Central NSW.



Last week, the CFMEU discovered 29 Chinese and Filipino workers, who
are at the centre of the scandal, constructing a feed pellet mill at the
Bomaderry Ethanol Plant. They were employed under sub-class 400 visa
arrangements, and contracted to work at Manildra through a Taiwanese
company called Chia Tung Development Corporation.



“It was our members themselves who blew the whistle on it,” CFMEU
National Secretary Michael O’Connor told New Matilda earlier today.



“Organisers went to the job and the non-visa workers said ‘We think there’s some problems with these visa workers,’” he said.


“[A CFMEU organiser] investigated and found a whole range of award
breaches, conditions breaches, and issues with where they were staying,
along with a whole lot of other matters,” O’Connor said.



According to the CFMEU, the foreign employees have been working for
10 or 11 hours a day, up to 7 days a week and taking home between $40
and $100 per day, with virtually no workplace entitlements.



The workers have not received any form of allowances, including
penalty rates for overtime and weekends, and it appears they were not
covered by work insurance, the CFMEU said.



In a letter to Manildra Group, the CFMEU identifies a swathe of
alleged illegal activities, including pay deductions for living
expenses, meals and travel.



Concerns have also been raised over the “cramped and degrading” accommodation provided by the workers’ employer.


“[My understanding is] there was an average of three to a room,” O’Connor said.


Of the 29 workers, 13 were Chinese nationals, and 16 were Filipino.


“It looks like the Filipinos were being treated differently to the
Chinese workers,” O’Connor said, adding that the Chinese workers’
employer appeared to be holding their documents.



“Most, if not all, of the Filipino workers can speak English, so we
were able to communicate more effectively with them,” O’Connor said.



Mr O’Connor said skilled migration visas such as 457s often lead to the exploitation of workers.


“We’ve always put the view to successive governments that this is a regular occurrence, not a one off,” O’Connor said.


“Workers under these visa arrangements are vulnerable because they’re
desperate to keep their job and are worried about being kicked out of
the country.”



And that may be what happens to a separate group of workers also
discovered by the CFMEU over the weekend, in the north-west NSW town of
Narrabri.



The eight foreign workers, who O’Connor said “certainly look like
they were working for the same Taiwanese company” were evicted from
their accommodation over the weekend.



“It looks like an attempt to get them out of the country before the exploitation was discovered,” O’Connor said.


O’Connor has written to the Minister for Immigration and Border
Protection, Peter Dutton – the man responsible for temporary skilled
visa workers - calling on him to investigate the matters.



“We have now learned from the workers themselves that such practices
are occurring in other parts of the company’s operations throughout
Australia,” O’Connor writes in the letter.



“We are therefore seeking an urgent investigation by your department
into the operations of the Manildra Group across the country, as well as
any sub-contractors, including the Chia Tung Development Corporation
(their ostensible employers), and any migration agents associated with
the workers.”



Mr O’Connor said there appeared to be “a deliberately complicated web
of companies across the country set up to hide what is outrageous
exploitation of vulnerable workers”.



Mr O’Connor (pictured below) said he hopes the fact “the Manildra
Group has donated $285,604 to the Liberal National Party over the past
two years [doesn’t] prevent the minister from urgently stamping out what
amounts to modern day slavery”.



The union has offered to assist Minister Dutton with any investigations.


In a statement issued to New Matilda last night, a spokesman for the
Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Michaelia Cash
said the government had begun investigating the claims.



“The Government takes allegations of illegal exploitation and
underpayment of foreign workers extremely seriously,” the spokesperson
said.



“The specific allegations raised in relation to workers at the
Manildra Ethanol Plant in Bomaderry have been referred to both the Fair
Work Ombudsman and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection
for investigation.”



New Matilda was unable to gain comment from Manildra Group at the
time of press, however the company earlier issued a statement to the
ABC.



“The Manildra Group has a contract with Chia Tung for the supply and
installation of a pellet feed mill on the Manildra site at Bomaderry.
Chia Tung has provided their own construction employees,” the statement
said.



“Manildra Group has become aware of certain allegations made by the CFMEU about Chia Tung's treatment of its employees.


“We take this matter seriously and are making enquiries of Chia Tung as to the allegations.”


The Australian representative for Chia Tung, Alan Sinclair, declined to comment when approached by New Matilda last night.


Manildra Group has previously been at the centre of a major political
storm in 2003, after Prime Minister John Howard delivered a series of
generous subsidies to the ethanol industry via its then Employment
Minister, Tony Abbott.



Manildra remains a major supporter of the three major political
parties, having donated at least $3 million to the ALP, Liberals and
Nationals since 1998.



Despite its denials of any knowledge of the exploitation of the
Bomaderry workers, Manildra doesn’t appear to be completely out of the
woods just yet.



In his letter to Minister Dutton, CFMEU National Secretary Michael
O’Connor noted that the union had “already learned of a similar
situation at [Manildra’s] facility in Manildra itself, and will provide
more information as it comes to hand.”



And for the government’s part, despite the growing scandal, Minister
Cash’s office was last night standing by the foreign worker visa
program.



“The Coalition Government’s increased focus on compliance within our skilled migration program is producing excellent results.


“As detailed in the 2013-14 Annual Report, the number of sponsors
monitored in 2013-14 increased by almost 20 per cent compared to the
previous year. Furthermore, the number of sponsors sanctioned in 2013-14
increased by 68 per cent compared to the previous year.



“This is a clear indication of this Government’s strong commitment to maintain integrity in Australia’s migration program.”


But Mr O’Connor said the CFMEU believes that many of the workers
caught up in this exploitation scandal are on subclass 400 visas - “the
very visa that the government wants to expand to 12 months and make it
even easier for employers to get”.



“Instead, the government should stop employers like this from rorting
the system, banning the worst offenders from taking on migrant workers,
and put in place proper labour market testing to make sure that local
workers can get a start and don’t get undercut,” Mr O’Connor said.



* New Matilda will bring you a fresh update on this story later today.


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