Guest workers defiant


Three Filipino workers sacked for speaking out about their and 37 other Filipino workers' treatment by Ipswich welding firm Dartbridge Engineering have been found alternative employment by their union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

Dartbridge Engineering had employed the Filipino welders on section 457 guest-worker visas. Each had been offered $40,000 per year to work in Australia for four years, but the pay and conditions fell well short of that. After deductions, the workers were earning $27,000 per year. They were charged $175 per week for accommodation and transport by the company and had to work at least 55 hours per week.

Eight of the workers told ABC TV's Lateline that they had to pay $175 each per week to their employer for a four-bedroom house — a total of $1400 — despite the house being worth $350 a week to rent.

The 40 workers each paid $3000 to Camira Industries, a Filipino recruitment company, for their 457 visas. The fee is to be paid back over six months, with huge interest. The workers have been told that once their fee is paid they will probably be sent back to the Philippines, but they can pay another $3000 fee to apply to return to Australia.

Before arriving in Australia, the 40 workers were required to sign individual contracts (AWAs), however, they were given only the signature page and were not able to read the full agreement. The conditions of the agreement leave the men without overtime payments, penalty payments and holiday pay.

Dartbridge's attempt to employ these workers on substandard conditions backfired when three of them joined the AMWU. The AMWU challenged the validity of the AWAs and sought a collective agreement with the company.

ABC reported on October 20 that the company had agreed to a union demand that it hand over its employment records for the 37 workers to the AMWU.