Exploitation of migrant workers – not just an Australian problem

12 Feb

The Australian Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) would be releasing a report next week criticising the current government for its temporary work visa 457 scheme. According to a Sydney Morning Herald news article, the union claimed that,

‘Australia is not requiring employers to prefer Australian over foreign workers in hiring or in retention in case of redundancies. Nor can Australia freely change the list of occupations for which the visas can be granted, nor cap the numbers of visa holders in a particular year’.

Lest this assertion by the union be construed as protectionism or protecting local workers over migrant workers by detractors, the underlying reasons for their concerns reflect merely what is a symptom of neoliberalism.

According to the general secretary of the CFMEU, John Sutton,

’employers seeking cheap, contingent labour from overseas will jump all over the changes. It’s always been required that employers can only apply for the visas where there is a genuine shortage of local workers and where they have attempted to source them locally and failed’.

Furthermore, according to the SMH report,

‘A survey of 50 companies by KPMG last August found that more than three-quarters would not choose to retrench 457 visa holders instead of Australians. Two-thirds said they were continuing to recruit 457 visa holders while they were reducing staff numbers overall.

Mr Sutton said a key reason was that ”the minimum salary level in the 457 visa scheme is as low as $45,000 in jobs where a local worker could expect to earn more like $100,000” [in bold – my emphasis].

Allowing an influx of temporary migrant workers is not just about unfair compensation. It also hurts local workers and the union by driving down union membership and representation; pits and creates a rift between the local and migrant workforce. Moreover, lower-skilled and non-English speaking temporary migrant workers are also more likely to be subjected to exploitation due to fear or lack of knowledge on Australian work culture, ethics and regulations.

In this sense, there is nothing unique nor new with this recent development. Neoliberalism remains very much alive (in Australia and many other countries). It is worth repeating how it exploits temporary migrant workers:

Temporary migrant workers whom are often lowly-paid and more likely to subject to employee abuse are allowed to compete with the indigenous sector. Driven out of work, the local workforce would regard foreign workers as ‘threats’ to their livelihood. Meanwhile, corporations continue to lobby governments to lower workplace regulatory standards, thus degenerating into a vicious cycle eroding all workers’ rights.

One Response to “Exploitation of migrant workers – not just an Australian problem”

  1. Sparta of Phoenix, AZ USA February 23, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    Same story here…..Bill Gates is always screaming about the need for more migrants from China and India while new American grads can’t find a job!


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