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Australia – Union calls for law change after foreign workers short-changed

04 November 2013

The new Abbott government is being urged to close a legal loophole after the Federal Court ruled against four Filipinos being paid less than AUD 3 (USD 2.85) an hour to work on oil rigs off the West Australian coast.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) wants changes to migration laws after the court on Friday ruled the two rigs were not governed by the Fair Work Act, because they were neither fixed platform nor majority Australian-crewed, reports The Australian.

West Australian branch secretary Stephen Price said while the rigs were within Australia's exclusive economic zone, they were outside Australia's territorial limit and therefore the scope of the Fair Work Act.

"(The laws) need to be broadened to ensure that they cover all types of vessels and facilities that are operating in the Australian territorial waters, plus our economic exclusion zones as well," Mr Price told AAP. “We're very concerned about the introduction of floating LNG facilities off the coast of West Australia which could also get caught up in this sort of uncertainty."

The Fair Work ombudsman intervened in the case when it emerged the men received only USD 900 each for a 28-day, 12-hours-a-day roster, painting the two Woodside rigs. The ombudsman believed the workers had been underpaid by tens of thousands of dollars, assuming they were covered by domestic employment laws.

It says it is now considering Friday's judgment.

The rigs were operated by Maersk Drilling Australia, while the painters were hired from Hong Kong-based company Pocomwell via Western Australia-based SurveySpec Pty Ltd and Philippines-based Supply Oilfield and Marine Services Inc. Maersk paid SurveySpec AUD 300 (USD 285) a day for each man. The four were hired on short-term 456 business visitor visas.

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