Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Migrant worker died on job, union says

Yuko Narushima, smh

November 11, 2008

ANOTHER temporary migrant working on a 457 visa has died from injuries sustained on the job after attempts by the union to visit his worksite were repeatedly thwarted, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union says.

At least nine migrants on the visa scheme have died in work-related accidents in the past two years, at almost double the workplace mortality rate of the general working population.

Lian Ron Xia, a welder from China, died in September from a head injury sustained in an industrial accident at Byrne Trailers in Wagga Wagga. This follows three 457-worker deaths in remote areas revealed by the Herald last year.

The union said officials tried twice before the accident to meet Mr Lian, and other 457 workers employed by the company, but were denied access.

"The employer, Mr Michael Byrne, without any reasonable explanation, denied their right of entry," said the union's state secretary, Paul Bastian. A third attempt to enter the site, after the accident and with WorkCover inspectors, was also blocked, he said.

Mr Byrne did not return the Herald's calls.

The union wants an overhaul of the 457 visa system, which can link a person's ability to stay in the country to acceptance of low wages and unsafe conditions.

"These workers are treated like second-class citizens," Mr Bastian said.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship said nine migrants on 457 visas had died in workplace-related accidents between January 1, 2006 and October 31 this year. It told the Herald that in September it had no contact details for 1 per cent, or up to 5800 workers, of the 457 visa workforce.

Temporary visa holders were not required to notify the department of their residential address, a departmental spokesman said.

Bob Kinnaird, a migration analyst, said many workers on 457 visas spoke little English, were hired in high-risk industries and felt compelled to accept harsh conditions. "These people are desperate for Australian wages. Even where wages are undercutting local wages, they're much higher than they can get back home," Mr Kinnaird said. "They're over a barrel in the Australian workplace because if they complain, they could be on the plane home within 28 days."

His research found that last year the fatality rate among 457 visa workers was 5.8 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with three deaths per 100,000 workers nationally.

A WorkCover NSW investigation of Mr Lian's case is continuing. It is also the subject of a NSW coronial inquiry.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, was presented yesterday with the "human face" of 457 visa exploitation.

Miriam Nhliziyo was one of the five workers brought to Parliament House by union officials. A registered nurse from Zimbabwe, she had 24 years' experience and post-graduate training. She began working in Australia in August 2006.

Her employer reneged on her application for permanent residency when she tried to claim $17,000 in underpaid wages. "It makes me feel used, especially when you've worked two years, loyally, with one employer. It's the idea of being used and dumped that makes you feel bad," she said.

The department said 192 sponsors were formally sanctioned and a further 1353 employers warned last year and this year.

The Federal Government is considering 66 recommended changes to the 457 visa program contained in a review by the Industrial Relations Commissioner, Barbara Deegan.