Foreign worker fraud edging towards slavery?

By Leith van Onselen

The AFR is today reporting on alleged cases of fraud and rorting within Australia’s skilled migration program, with the Immigration Department conducting a series of raids on a multinational firm working on major Australian mining and infrastructure projects:

The raids targeted the offices of Murphy Pipe & Civil (MPC), with documents and other material seized.

The firm has allegedly assisted dozens of Irish workers fraudulently obtain 457 temporary skilled and other visas to work on key national projects…

[It] raises questions about whether some of Australia’s biggest infrastructure and mining players, including the company managing the Curtis LNG project, QGC, have failed to conduct thorough due diligence on the workforces supplied by sub-contractors such as MPC. QGC did not respond to questions.

The revelations have sparked fresh debate about the use of overseas workers to meet labour shortages, which the business lobby says is vital.

Meanwhile, New Matilda has reported that foreign workers at the Bomaderry Ethanol Plant on the south coast of NSW, owned by Manildra Group, have been working up to seven days a week for as little as $4 an hour, while living in “cramped and degrading conditions”:

…the CFMEU discovered 29 Chinese and Filipino workers, who are at the centre of the scandal, constructing a feed pellet mill at the Bomaderry Ethanol Plant. They were employed under sub-class 400 visa arrangements, and contracted to work at Manildra through a Taiwanese company called Chia Tung Development Corporation…

According to the CFMEU, the foreign employees have been working for 10 or 11 hours a day, up to 7 days a week and taking home between $40 and $100 per day, with virtually no workplace entitlements…

“Workers under these visa arrangements are vulnerable because they’re desperate to keep their job and are worried about being kicked out of the country.”

Some of the 29 workers discovered by the CFMEU have also claimed that they are being treated as “virtual prisoners”, receiving just “one day off work a month to shop, clean house and for personal leisure”.

The allegations comes hot on the heels of the Abbott Government’s decision to relax requirements around 457 ‘temporary’ work visas to make it much easier for Australian businesses to import so-called “skilled” foreign workers, along with the Government seeking to introduce a “short-term mobility visa”, which would allow employers to hire specialised workers for up to 12 months.

They also come after last week’s release of the Department of Employment’s latest Skill Shortages Statistical Summary, which revealed that “the availability of skilled workers is greater than it has been since the current series began in 2007, and fewer occupations are in shortage”:

There are generally large fields of applicants vying for skilled jobs and employers fill a high proportion of their vacancies… Almost all employers attract applicants, with just 4 per cent not receiving any interest in their vacancies…

ScreenHunter_5752 Jan. 28 07.33

As I keep arguing, now is entirely the wrong time for the Abbott Government to be further relaxing foreign worker visas, given Australia’s stubbornly high unemployment (particularly youth unemployment), which is likely to worsen as mining investment unwinds, the local car industry closes, and the current housing construction boom-let subsides.

ScreenHunter_5757 Jan. 28 07.50

Given such an economic environment, why on earth should the visa system make it even easier to import labour from offshore rather than training local workers, potentially adding to the pool of under/unemployed and depriving our youth of employment opportunities?

In light of the latest allegations around foreign worker visa fraud, now is also high time for a Senate Inquiry into the issue to determine: whether the whole foreign visa system is appropriate given the fragile state of the economy and lack of labour shortages; whether it is being systematically rorted; and whether it is depriving Australians of training and work opportunities.

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Unconventional Economist
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  1. In the eyes of the employers there obviously is a labour shortage.

    A shortage of cheap labour willing to work for peanuts.

  2. They couldn’t care less about potential rising unemployment. Importing slaves is a good thing for big business and political donations.

    This is a very simple point showing how malevolent the govt is towards its own people.


    • “This is a very simple point showing how malevolent the govt is towards its own people.”

      Yep, they’ve exported as many jobs as they can, this is the inevitable follow on from that. I don;t know what they think the endgame is, but it won’t be pretty.

    • I just want to remind that the government is there to make business comfortable and to help only the businesses. This is capitalism, not socialism, so no treasone if they work for the greedy bastards like Gina etc.

  3. It’s just the US model that Tony etc mave been pushing for yrs. If you have 2/3 of the work force living hand to month, it guarantees low inflation, and more wealth for the richest 5%.
    Wake up MSM,… you’re being played like a fool.

      • It can be slavery if you volunteered because you were lied to, which may well be the case for the Chinese workers especially.

      • “No, there is no voluntary participation in slavery.”

        Maybe, but such practices do not come anywhere near close to conforming to Australian values, laws or norms (which is always a risky prospect for any business).

      • Your moral compass seems pretty much screwed… Let’s hope you or anyone you care about never ends up in such a position as those workers

      • “Your moral compass seems pretty much screwed…”

        I don’t know about Jono, but I think our politicians might have sold their moral compasses to the invisible hand in exchange for some magical beans.

      • Mining BoganMEMBER

        No voluntary participation in slavery eh?

        Are you endorsing people’s right to not work and sit on welfare instead?

  4. The return of indentured workers.

    All part of the New Elite Consensus.

    When fully implemented, it will apply not only to unskilled workers but professional workers as well: to get higher education kids will be forced to take on crushing debts that may never be repaid in their lifetimes. The “return” on their education will go to the holders of that capital.

    And that “capital” is being held by fewer and fewer people.

    • This is the history tendency and short deviation like that in 20 century post war golden age is just a short deviation. The sooner people realize it the better.

      • KlimashkinaSydney


        I recall a trader / strategist saying back in 2008/09 that it is tragic a whole generation will know only low rates, basically qe. he framed it in a way that the preceeding 15 years or so, the apparent goldilocks new normal, were the norm.

      • @KlimashkinaSydney,
        The low rate and QE is the way the big capital realised it can grow absolutely independently from the real economy. It doesn’t need anymore real economy growth so much as it need infinite money/capital growth. As the quantity of money becomes the main predisposition for capital growth, the issue of currency (money printing), independenltly from the produced goods and services on the market, becomes a norm.
        Capital can grow by rising its own price compared to all other deflated prices and especuially labour price.
        The inflation or bubble of the assets reflect exactly this “normal” tendency. The sad thing is it can go for ever. Until the system colapses.

      • Comment in Crikey today:
        “As the world heads in the GFC stage 2 I think that a degree of humanity will be important for social stability. Further, communities will need to provide for services that central governments can no longer afford.

        This will need social infrastructure that right wing governments seem happy to destroy. Where is the party that is building the social structures that support communities with high levels of unemployment?

        Who is organising the unemployed and retired to meet local needs? Who is funding the key elements and setting minimum standards of quality?
        For example, who is organising unemployed and retired people to grow vegetables in a communal context in otherwise unused backyards?”
        Backyards? What are they? Isn’t the trend: knock-down-rebuild-3-McUnits-in-its-place. We need solutions similar to what is proposed above. In which case it will be a case of coming full circle (as flawse says the answer lies in the past). The collapse will bring that, but if solutions are planned now, we can be ready for it. The govt is either deluded or unaware, or hoping for a civil war/unrest so the elite/political can profit from it. Psychopathic Madness.

    • People will stop bothering with higher ed, as is beginning to happen in the US now – people are calculating that they’re going to end up working at Walmart regardless, and their quality of life is better without the crushing debt.

      The plan is to reduce the numbers of people in higher ed to late sixties levels.

  5. Absolutely disgusting. I know that area well and there is high unemployment there – particularly youth unemployment.

      • Agreed, or if not happy this time around they’ll vote labor back in. I don’t understand why people can only bring themselves to vote LNP or Labor.

      • Just because I prefer them to the Lab catastrophe doesn’t mean that I have to agree with all their policies. Or is the ability to consider shades of grey too sophisticated for you?

      • Just because I prefer them to the Lab catastrophe doesn’t mean that I have to agree with all their policies.

        The Labor “catastrophe” isn’t even playing the same game as the malevolent social and economic vandalism currently being visited on this country.

        Or is the ability to consider shades of grey too sophisticated for you?

        Clearly shades of grey scare the crap out of you if you’re only prepared to vote for a party that can govern in its own right.

    • mander,

      Oh, such a sophisticated and cutting remark!

      Shades of grey, yes, I thought you were colour blind.

      You’ve shown yourself, you’ll vote lib no matter what while whining about the outcome.

      • Haha. Butt hurt just a bit dennis?

        I love how you presume to know my voting history.

        I’m on record on this blog that I am a swinging voter. Over 40 years of voting I have probably voted 50/50 LNP/Lab.

        I hope that sometime soon I will have enough confidence in Labor to vote for them again at a National level. It won’t happen while they are such a rabble and especially while Shorten is the potential PM.

        Such a pity because my local (Labor) member is a decent guy with a lot to offer. He would be a brilliant health minister if he ever gets there.

        In the meantime I will draw consolation that my vote serves to cancel out yours.

    • mander,

      Not just colour blind, but tone deaf as well!

      Your vote doesn’t cancel mine, I didn’t vote Lab the last two times and don’t expect to vote for them next either.

      What does it take for you to consider a change? Doesn’t having someone who does his utmost to undermine normal workers via various visa programs to the detriment of the unemployed and low skilled, attempting to heap increasing student debt onto the young, whilst allowing accounting and IT positions to be viewed as in short supply, thus no jobs for new grads, taking away health support for low income families via the co-payment, selling out the country via the FTA with China and hoping to circumvent any future gov decisions re the TPP, and you’re a swinging voter looking for a reason to change your vote hahahahahahaha. 🙂

      I’ll not vote for neither and if that results in uncertainty in the short to medium term until one of the major parties changes its ways, or the rise of a new party, so be it.

      • Feel better now dennis? I think you need a nice Bex and a lie down.

        Meanwhile, in the real world, what are the alternatives? No other party has any real chance of governing in their own right. I consider the LNP to be the lesser of two evils.

        What will it take for me to change my vote – certainly not your ranting haha.

      • No other party has any real chance of governing in their own right.

        And there’s your problem right there.

        You’re happy with a dictatorship, so long as its *your* dictatorship.

      • “I’m on record on this blog that I am a swinging voter. Over 40 years of voting I have probably voted 50/50 LNP/Lab.”

        And that’s the problem right there.

        “No other party has any real chance of governing in their own right.”

        They don’t need to govern in their own right, they just need to stop the stupidity. Even Ricky Muir has been thoughtful and considered on the University funding.

  6. Could have ramifications here:
    The head of Brazil’s state-run oil giant Petrobras and five senior executives have resigned in the wake of a huge corruption scandal.
    Maria das Gracas Foster’s departure follows the arrest and testimony of some three dozen executives at Petrobras and many of its suppliers.
    The board of Petrobras is due to meet on Friday to elect new executives.
    The scandal involves alleged price-fixing, bribes and kickbacks, which implicates Brazil’s ruling party.
    Prosecutors have uncovered around $800m in bribes and other illegal funds. More than 200 businesses are being investigated and more than 80 people, including three former executives from Petrobras, are facing possible charges.
    A major corruption scandal was unveiled, including allegations that some executives were channelling 3% of the proceeds of major contracts straight to politicians’ campaign funds or pockets.

  7. Must watch video.

    “David Cameron says a second financial crash is imminent. If he’s right, it’s because the government bailed out the wrong industry, argues Renegade Economist host Ross Ashcroft. He says the last recession was brought on by too much debt. Today private debt is at the greatest level in recorded human history. By ignoring this and instead focusing on the banks, we are heading for economic armageddon.”

  8. “…now is entirely the wrong time for the Abbott Government to be further relaxing foreign worker visas,…”

    As we have seen in relation to monetary and fiscal policy the government has not got a clue what is going on.

    But they are starting to feel the heat and smell the smoke from the bushfire on the back porch.

    Expect to see some very rapid U-turns in 457 and immigration policy in the near future.

    Born to Rule types when faced with the choice between ruling and loony neo-liberal ideology and warming the opposition benches will usually go for the being in charge option.

    Though this mob do seem more ideological and radical than your typical bunch of conservatives so perhaps they see glory in ideological purity while coping a landslide eviction after 1 term.

    Of course – the ALP seem to have missed the memo that neo-liberal ideology is a sinking ship what with Penny ‘FTA’ Wong and Ed ‘race card’ Husic insisting we should be selling off the farm (and residential housing) even faster than before.

  9. $4/ hour doesn’t look very good compared to Chinese minimum wages, especially if you have to pay Australian living costs.

    I guess that’s their definition of competitive – pay labour less than the Chinese.

  10. Meanwhile, the other rort going on in financial institutions is hiring foreign student interns, who work for free but have to pay money to the agency to find them a position. Companies get free labour, don’t have to hire payed for staff and can just keep churning in free labour all the time.

    • Power

      We tried that. Got free labour for 3 months.

      The interns English was pathetic. Will not do that again.

      We also had 457 visa employees. They are the hardest working people I know.

      They’re all permanent residents now.

  11. ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

    ” whether the whole foreign visa system is appropriate given the fragile state of the economy and lack of labour shortages; whether it is being systematically rorted; and whether it is depriving Australians of training and work opportunities.”

    Of course young Australians are being deprived of training and work opportunities, foreign workers are more fearfully complaint , obedient and don’t demand their rights be honoured. Everybody at or near the coal face knows this to be true in all industries.

    Just like the attempts to break and chastise unions its all about the primacy of productivity gain and return on investment. Its investor class rule.

    I can rember large construction companies and their subcontractors in the 80s always being in strife, for having too many apprentice’s on site, in ratio to the number of tradesmen. I was on many hospital builds and multistorey towers where nearly half the site was apprentice’s.

    The same type’s of projects now have very few apprentice’s on them, the cheaper labour now being the foreign worker with dubious training and qualifications.

  12. FIFO is viewed as ‘Destroying family life’ in Australia, and reported as such regularly in the MSM. People don’t want to do it, and don’t last long if they give it a try. They even try and link it to suicide in Australia.

    Meanwhile on Planet Earth….

    Rotational jobs, such as those on offer, on the major infrastructure projects in Australia, and the mining/Oil & Gas industry around the globe, are normal and necessary practice.

    The truth is, the 1 million strong army of Baristas in Australia do not want to dig and fill trenches all day long for 3 weeks, especially when it is temporary work, and the sensationalist stories of underpaid and abused workers are written to both anger and comfort the welfare bogans….’It aint my fault i ant got a jerb, its them brown folk working for peanuts’

    I would have thought the intelligence on MB could have seen through this.

    • When many people observe what the article is stating, people who are held on high esteem and perceived as credible, how much weight do you think your countenance of media conspiracy and bias holds?

  13. ceteris paribus

    Mr Abetz is a strange, strange fellow. Class war reigns supreme and the Liberals are winning hands down.

    And powerful, organised Labour is co-opted and fights only for its own cut rather than a universal progressive society.

    Bloody sad.

    • He is just strange, the way he speaks is truly bizarre. Listening to his reply to a Senate valedictory (whose, I can’t remember, but it was a Labor member) was just a spin out.

      • ceteris paribus

        Marshy, it’s possibly a bit before your time. But when Abetz talks, I turn my head away and can hear the exact tones of B A Santamaria.

        In sound and style, not content of course. Because while Santamaria was the sworn enemy of the ALP and supported the Libs over the ALP, he still claimed to be a leader of a working person’s (man’s) party, the DLP.

      • Ceteris, many a long dinner over a Tahbilk shiraz did I spend with grandfather (dec) talking about BA and the split.

        I even tried reading News Weekly (shudder)

  14. A classic angle I have seen is the sourcing of itinerant workers (not sure if 457) through mining construction companies, who are then given ABN numbers and contracted in on sub market rates. The proviso is given that upon leaving (usually after a couple of good years) they shouldnt come back to Australia as there may be an ATO official picking them up at the airport.

    Ive met Irish, NZ, Thai’s, onsite (a few years ago mind you in the thick of the boom) who all seem to have had this interesting setup….

  15. new neolib globalized business model: outsource all jobs that can be outsourced, automate everything that can be automated, import slave labour for all the other jobs and promise everyone else to get rich only if they take huge credits to buy the existing assets

  16. Labor are conflicted on this. BigAustraliaFIRE meets the CFMEU. Don’t get caught in the middle Bill.

    • I thought the LNP had made it clear that Shorten is essentially a union plant – that being so, you would think being caught in the middle wasn’t a problem – he’ll go with the unions.

      (the AWU have expressed the same general concerns about Abbott skilled immigration policy as other unions)

  17. I’m sure I’ll get flamed but let me add some counterpoint…

    The question that comes to my mind is
    At what point do the majority of Aussie workers begin to share in the heavy costs that have been imposed on our export exposed industries? It makes no sense for me to seek to establish a business in Australia if I really cant afford to pay workers full Aussie salaries AND still remain profitable. If the sums dont add up, then I dont invest and those Aussies that would want this work dont have jobs…simple as that really.

    Logically the exchange rate should be doing the heavy lifting and equalizing export exposed vs domestic industry opportunities however these days the exchange rate really cant keep pace with the volatility of the market. Just a couple of years ago the Aussie was at above $1:10 to $USD with strongly positive sentiment today its below $0.80 with weakening sentiment. Unfortunately we need an exchange rate below $0.40 /USD to turn our $20/hr unskilled wages into anything that’s globally competitive.

    Unfortunately without a globally competitive unskilled labor force we are really indirectly taxing our skilled labor within export exposed industries, they accept globally competitive wages yet must pay for over priced local product…worst of both worlds…and we wonder why we have so few new globally competitive companies that leverage Australia’s human capital.

      • This “race to the bottom” is inevitable get over it because we live in a globally connected world. Nobody seriously wants to give up the advantages of a global market place, yet they do want other (export exposed industry) to pay the costs to create this advantage. That’s not exactly the “fair-go” Australia that I remember.

        In the current market conditions our Aussie skilled human capital is not globally competitive so it’s part of a contracting industry, for real growth in human capital opportunities we must cast our minds back to 1991. By anyone’s measure that’s a long time between growth events.

      • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

        So if the most competitive countries move towards Fascism and near slavery, through debt bondage, your suggestion seem to be………… acquiesce,……… so as to avoid, for the few remaining in the middle class, missing out on affordable overseas travel and the very latest Iphone iterations.

        Being such a relatively free, large rich country with a small,and well educated population, we could be doing so much better than fighting to be the flagbearer for the global plutocracy

    • Restrict the unproductive capital inflows and you will get an exchange rate that better reflects our trade performance.

      Sensible and flexible working arrangements will remain important to allow business to be responsive but that will happen as Australian become accustomed to earning their lifestyle rather than funding it by selling off our capital and claims on public and private future income like there is no tomorrow (pessimists stop right there).

      • I agree completely….Capital flows distort exchange rates…we need an environment where Mining (and the international sale of other existing assets) along Capital flows are somehow separated from the balance of trade calculations that should set / ensure competitive exchange rates.

        I’d suggest this is only possible if Aussie industries somehow form Strategic Economic Zones where the differential between local wages and SEZ wages is somehow compensated for through Gov’t funds. I absolutely hate this sort of non market solution BUT…

      • That sounds pretty complicated and messy.

        If we just started with

        1. A complete restriction (introduced gradually over 5-7 years) on off shore borrowing for residential real estate

        2. A complete restriction on off shore sales of Govt securities. Ownership of bonds can be registered just as we register ownership of property. Only locals can be registered owner of a bond. Good bye foreign bond traders!

        We will probably find that the situation is greatly improved close to $1T trillion less demand for $AUS has to have some impact.

        After that the things to look at are the rate of expansion of the mining industry – though the damage has largely been done.

        It was simply loony to encourage capex on a massive scale right across the economy in such a short time frame.

        Once constructed the pressure to drive volumes as the prices fell would only mean that our precious mineral resource get exhausted ever faster.

        Export volume licences would have allowed the government some control over the rate of expansion without trying to pick winners or interfere with state rights to royalties.

    • Does not have to be a race to the bottom

      Renewables R&D
      Programming (yes, uni related)
      Invest in science
      AGW adaptation
      And so on

      We don’t need our baristas to be effectively on US wages for this motherf$cking country to be AUS-TRALIA, FK YEAH.

      We just need everyone to have a fair go

      Maybe this so called “free trade” isn’t all she cracked up to be

      Reckon plenty of folks would long for a much simpler, stress free way of life.

  18. pay rates like this have been around in hospitalty and agriculture for yonks. No one has cared for years.

    • Wardell, Northern Rivers
      Ute on PAcific Highway
      Sign in back

      FROM $4/HOUR!”

      Looked at wifey.
      “That can’t be legal, can it?”

      • Almost 10 years ago i heard to about a Korean restaurant in Melbourne that paid four dollars an hour. Chinatown would empty out very quickly if they were forced to pay award wages.

      • Early naught’s when getting a forklift ticket the trainer told us about another clients workplace. He ended up delivering the same training session there two weeks apart with completely different set of workers. He asked the warehouse manager what happened to the last set of workers. Apparently shortly after the first training session the department of immigration played a visit looking for a single person. 8 of them had no hesitation in legging it.