Filipino workers on 457 visas deep in debt, facing extortionate interest rates from agents.
Sydney Morning Herald, by Ben Schneiders, 29 Jun 2013
They are the faces of debt bondage: Filipino workers brought to Australia on 457 visas and saddled with substantial debts attracting crippling interest rates.
Anthony Naupan was lumbered with a loan of $13,620 at an interest rate of 47.9 per cent to pay agents, financiers and middlemen just to come here.
The debt was nearly a third of his annual income affecting his ability to send remittances back to his family in the Philippines.
Roland Dicang borrowed $14,600 at an interest rate of more than 45 per cent, while Noel Guran had debts of about $13,000. Both also found it harder to support their families back home.
Dozens of Filipinos have signed statements that they have incurred debts of up to $15,000, typically to be repaid in a little more than a year. Some workers say they were told they could not come to Australia without agreeing to the high interest loans.
Mr Naupan’s wage was meant to support his wife and six children in the Philippines.
"We are actually shocked. For my knowledge in the Philippines when you apply in an Englishspeaking country for a skilled working visa you don’t need to pay anything," he said.
"It’s really hard for us to take those chances but we don’t have a choice because we’re looking to change our lives here in Australia that’s why we take the risk." Earlier this month Fairfax Media identified up to 200 cases of workers being exploited on the 187 and 457 visa schemes.
Unions claim abuse of 457 visas is widespread. On Friday afternoon the government’s tougher laws passed the Senate.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox this week downplayed claims of abuse among the 110,000 workers on 457 visas.
"We need to be extremely wary about drawing broad conclusions from a tiny number of individual cases of alleged abuse," he said.
In the case of the Filipino workers who spoke to Fairfax Media they all worked together last year for Australian Portable Camps near Murray Bridge in South Australia.
An Australian Portable Camps spokesman, Brian Devey, said he was shocked the workers had been loaded up with debts by agents his company had used. In the case of Mr Naupan, documents indicate the $13,620 he borrowed was split betweenAustralian agents Heron Assist, Filipino agents SGS Human Resources, and a financier. Heron has declined to comment.
"We were staggered, we pay significant fees to Heron Assist, there ought to be no reason for the Filipino 457s to pay," Mr Devey said. "We are responsible for all the costs for 457s." Mr lievey said the company paid Heron Assist between $4000 to $6000 a worker and had terminated its relationship with the company in recent months.
The "majority" of the 35 Filipino workers it had hired in the last year had come from Heron Assist, he said.
Mr Naupan also signed a contract in the Philippines with SGS and Heron that warned he could be sacked for engaging in "trade union activities" a clause that is illegal under Australian laws.
Mr Devey said his company had been unaware this contract had been signed.
Mr Naupan said he worked for Australian Portable Camps for seven months before being made redundant in November last year along with about a dozen Filipino workers on 457 visas. He said the Filipino workers were treated differently by the company after they joined a union.
Mr Devey rejected claims the workers were targeted and said it had to make about 60 workers redundant, including locals, due to a downturn.
Mr Guran said his pay was cut from the original contract he signed in the Philippines, a claim made by others. The original contract stated he would be paid $49,000, he said, but that was later reduced to $41,000. He said he was given no reason for the change.
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