The Transport Workers’ Union is demanding that migrant workers be allowed to vote and that costs they are forced to bear, such as health insurance and public education for their children, be shifted to their employers.
TWU MEDIA RELEASE, 18 May 2015
TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon has made the call in a keynote speech at the start of the union’s National Council in Melbourne today. The speech comes on the same day as public hearings begin into a Senate inquiry into the impact of the temporary work visa programmes on the labour market and the visa holders.
“Only by giving migrant workers full democratic representation will their voices be heard because politicians and the business elite will have to listen to their demands. This right should extend to all working people and their families who are paying tax,” Sheldon.
Migrant workers pay thousands of dollars in health insurance and payment for their children’s education in public schools. Often this cost is born by the workers themselves, effectively amounting to an additional tax on already vulnerable workers.
“If employers want to bring migrant workers into Australia then they must be held responsible for ensuring they can share in the Australian way of life. This is a nation built on egalitarian values where workers are equal – this right must extend to all workers,” he added.
In addition, the TWU is calling for migrant workers to be given mandatory access to union representation upon arrival in Australia so workers know what their rights are and where to go if they are being exploited or wish to negotiate improved wages and conditions.
Employers must also be forced to get a licence and go on a public register if they want to bring in foreign workers. In a system similar to the UK, this will provide a layer of checks on employers to ensure they abide by Australian labour laws.
Exploitation and illegal undercutting of wages should become a criminal offence. The wealthy retailers at the top of the supply chain must be held to account when exploitation occurs - not just the labour hire companies who feed off the system.
There is an urgent need for additional protections against termination of employment of migrant workers. Currently temporary visa holders have 90 days to find another job if their employment is terminated making them vulnerable to exploitation.
“Retailers and other economic employers should be accountable for their supply chains. Only by protecting foreign workers do we protect everyone's rights to a job with dignity. If we fail to do this our kids, our neighbours and our communities are doomed to have their lives also degraded by substandard work,” said Sheldon.
“We need to get serious about protecting the rights of temporary foreign workers, because we should be fighting for this basic principle: whether you’ve got a 60,000-year family heritage in Australia or arrived here last week – if you do Aussie work, you deserve Aussie rights,” said Sheldon.