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Australia – Foreign workers exploited through visa schemes

06 June 2013

Revelations of exploitation of workers on 457 visas show the system must be changed, the ACTU union said Thursday. There have been media reports today of Filipino workers being placed into enormous debt in order to get 457 visas.

Some of the foreign workers had to direct part of their salary to repay loans organised by recruitment and migration agents that charge high interest rates. ACTU argues that workers are also often mistreated by employers in Australia, pointing out the dangers of the “rapid and uncontrolled” expansion of the 457 visa program.

“Workers on 457 visas, or other temporary visas, must be treated the same as their Australian counterparts, not be used as cheap labour or to drive down pay and conditions,” said ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver.

“Today’s reports raise major concerns the current system is allowing the exploitation of 457 visa-holders by loan sharks and unscrupulous employers in Australia. The 457 system is being used to exploit Filipino workers, who are required to pay huge sums to middlemen – often the equivalent of four years average wage in the Philippines – to get a 457 visa and a job in Australia.”

Reports say that the workers are required to take out a loan at 45% interest to pay middlemen, such as recruiters. “These arrangements may not be illegal, but they are taking advantage of poor, vulnerable workers and should be condemned,” Mr Oliver said.

He said international workers must not be left at the mercy of agents and loan sharks. “457 visa workers are already reliant on their employer to maintain their migration status. This makes it difficult for them to speak up about exploitation or safety breaches. If they are also paying off a massive debt then they are left powerless.”

According to the union, the number of workers who came to Australia on 457 visas has increased by 20% over the past 12 months. As of April 2013 there were 56,946 visas granted.

 “These figures show that the 457 visa program is out of whack,” Mr Oliver said. “Increasing the use of guest workers while locals struggle to get training or break into the workforce is not in our long-term interests.”

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