A group of foreign workers were forced to sleep on a Melbourne office floor for almost a month after their employer put a freeze on wages, renewing concerns of widespread rorting of the 457 visa scheme.
Nick Toscano & Beau Donelly, The Age
Eleven Filipino workers employed on temporary visas turned Schneider Elevators Australasia's head office into their makeshift living quarters because they could not afford lodging when their pay suddenly stopped six weeks ago.
Photographs taken by the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union show blow-up mattresses and couch cushions strewn across the floor of the South Melbourne office and employees sleeping among their belongings.
The union's assistant state secretary, Craig Kelly, said the elevator company had failed to pay correct wages and overtime rates to its 17 workers including 11 Filipinos, five Australians and a British national and owed them more than $170,000.
Mr Kelly accused the company of secretly deducting visa charges and building industry fees from the foreign workers' pay, leaving them with weekly take-home wages of between $150 and $500.
"This is an appalling case of exploitation," Mr Kelly said. "Originally they were promised board and lodging by the company, but when they got here that didn't eventuate. So they stayed at backpackers hostels, then when their wages stopped they were basically homeless."
One of the foreign workers who was employed as a lift installer said staff were paid between $25 and $40 a week while living in the office. He said they moved to a hotel last week after the union intervened.
Schneider Elevators Australasia managing director Terrence Donnelly declined to comment.
'This is an appalling case of exploitation' Craig Kelly