IR SHORTS

Imported workers exploited

Two federal government agencies – the Immigration Department and the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) – have raised serious concerns about the underpayment and over work of workers brought into the country under the skilled migrant visa scheme.

‘Serious concerns have been raised about the exploitation of visa holders both in terms of low salaries and the number of hours that visa holders are meant to work,’ a MARA email leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald said.

This was confirmed to the Herald by an immigration department spokesperson.

Immigration department figures show that 3,737 of the so-called ‘section 457’ workers were underpaid in NSW in 2004-05. This was 30% of the workers on the program.

Despite this, the immigration depart-ment – under pressure from employer groups – is looking to extend the number of occupations covered by the program and add semi skilled workers to the list.

Truck drivers, abattoir workers and farmhands are some of the new jobs to be added.

Liberal MP admits, ‘It’s going to hurt’

First we were told – at a cost of $55 million – that our workplace rights would be ‘Protected by Law’.

When that didn’t work, we were told ‘it was good for the economy’.

Now, one Liberal backbencher, with her own job security under threat, has confirmed what unions have said from the beginning – that if unemployment rises the federal government’s IR laws will hurt the vulnerable.

‘There will be some bad employers around and, yes, they’ll be people who’ll try to exploit someone who’s from a non-English speaking background, who’s young, who’s female,’ Jackie Kelly told the ABC’s Sunday Profile program.

‘I think that if unemployment does rise, then I suppose, yes, we’ve got something wrong,’ she said.

In marked contrast, John Howard has clearly indicated that employees can expect more of the same.

‘We can only entrench and strengthen the economy further, if we’re willing to undertake further reforms such as industrial relations reform,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

ACTU demands $30 pay rise for the low paid

The minimum wage case may be a thing of the past but the union movement is still pushing for the new pay commission to give the low paid a $30 a week pay rise.

The figure would offset inflation and an effective 18-month wage freeze imposed since the federal government brought in its new IR laws.

Employer groups immediately attacked the claim.

Our kids under attack Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has attacked a group of Canberra high school students for lampooning the federal government’s IR reforms in a rock revue.

Andrews deemed the show ‘totally inappropriate’ and said he found it ‘difficult to believe they came up with the idea themselves’.

The eight-minute act featured a spoof John Howard arriving on stage to the Eurythmics Would I lie to you, flying pigs and a young girl being physically forced to sign an AWA by a bunch of bad bosses.

The act was advertised as ‘a satirical take on WorkChoices’, with banners saying ‘Proudly sponsored by the Australian government’ as backdrops.

The judges thought differently to Andrews, awarding the item first place in Canberra’s rock eisteddfod grand final.

The Nine network is expected to air the revue later this year, according to the Australian.

Collective agreements underpin resource boom

John Howard’s attack on Kim Beazley after he promised to scrap individual contracts has been undermined by Woodside Energy, operator of the North-West Shelf project, which has confirmed its 3,200 permanent staff are all employed on common law contracts rather than AWAs.

Howard said during a trip to China earlier this year that Labor’s pledge to abolish AWAs was ‘a dagger at the throat’ of the resources sector, widely believed to be the engine of Australia’s current economic growth.

‘AWAs are essential to the competitive edge we have in the resource industry and no attempts by Beazley to say common law contracts area as good – they’re not as good, they’re not as flexible,’ Howard told the Australian Financial Review.

This was rejected by Woodside Petroleum’s industrial relations manager, Ian Masson, who told the Melbourne’s Age newspaper that collective agreements with various unions had ‘provided stability for Woodside over many years and already deliver the flexibility and systems we seek.’

Beazley also had something to say about Howard’s baseless claims.

‘When Mr Howard was celebrating the delivery of Australian gas to China, he should have also celebrated the collective agreements that got it there,’ he said.