Bangladeshi unionist denied entry to Australia for being 'too poor'

Bangladeshi workers protest after the Rana Plaza collapse this year.

The National Tertiary Education Union released this statement on October 21.

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Australian immigration officials have refused to grant a visa to a Bangladeshi union activist on the basis that he is too poor.

The activist's trip was to be sponsored by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) as part of its contribution to Anti-Poverty Week, which draws attention to issues of poverty and social exclusion.

The activist, Moniruzzaman Masum, was due to speak at several events about the plight of workers and the labour movement in Bangladesh. Masum was involved in the rescue operation at the Rana Plaza factory collapse where more than 1100 workers were killed, and in supporting workers after the recent Gazipur factory fire. He was due to report on these terrible events and the appalling conditions under which many Bangladeshi garment workers toil.

The Australian government refused two consecutive visa applications from Masum. The second visa application included a number of documents with endorsements and guarantees of financial support for the visit from Australian unions. But the Australian government noted that Masum, with only $46 in his bank account, was just too poor to be granted entry to Australia - as apparently he may not have enough incentive to go back home (despite his wife, his daughter, his work and his union being in Dhaka).

Victorian secretary of the NTEU, Dr Colin Long, said that it is bitterly ironic that Masum's attendance at Anti-Poverty Week events had been prevented because he is too poor.

"Given the NTEU had already booked Masum's return ticket and guaranteed his support while in Australia, we can't understand why his personal circumstances have any bearing on his application for a visa," Long said.

"Perhaps his ability to speak first-hand about the exploitation of workers was what the Australian government was most concerned about. Australian citizens benefit from the cheap goods made in Asian countries, so we think they should know more about the conditions under which those goods are made.

"Poverty is an international issue and bringing a union activist from one of the world's poorest countries to Australia for Anti-Poverty Week seemed to us a very good way to raise the issues of poverty in the developing world and its relevance to us in one of the richest countries in the world.

"But as we've seen with refugees, Australian governments seem to think the Australian people need to be protected from hearing about the poverty and terrible working conditions of our neighbours."

Long emphasised that interest by NTEU branches on this visit has been very high. The NTEU will continue developing solidarity programs with Masum and his union and will ensure that Australian workers will still be able to learn about conditions for workers in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh solidarity program developed by the NTEU also has the support of the union-based solidarity organisation Australia Asia Worker Links, the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the ACTU.