The Guardian 28 September, 2005

Sign AWA — or be deported

A Japanese woman was threatened with deportation if she did not sign an AWA, the Howard government’s non-union, individual employment contracts, that stripped her of a dozen safety-net conditions, a Sydney court has heard.

Sachie Murata told the Industrial Magistrate’s Court she did not even know she had been employed under an AWA until informed by her solicitor, 18 months after the document was rubber stamped by the Office of the Employment Advocate.

Murata said Dion Woo, operator of Soy Franchise at Sydney Airport, had forced all staff to sign unread documents at the end of 2002.

"I did not want to lose my job as Mr Woo had on previous occasions said that if I lose my job with Soy Franchise I would lose my visa and have to leave Australia", Murata said.

"Mr Woo did not explain the contents of the document to either myself or any other members of staff and he did not let me read it so that I could understand it before signing."

Murata said she managed Woo’s airport franchise on $15 an hour. She did not qualify for overtime until she had worked more than 50 hours a week and received no extra payments for Saturday or Sunday work.

She testified that her relationship with her employer soured after she met an Australian man who she later married.

Once, she said, when she had tried to negotiate holiday payments, Woo responded: "Ever since you met Al you have been asking too many questions. Stop asking too many questions, you know I can just cancel your visa and you’ll never see me again."

Ms Murata’s counsel said the Office of the Employment Advocate had okayed Soy Franchise AWAs, although they were "grossly inferior" to award entitlements.

"The evidence will show how weak are the protections for those who become parties to AWAs and how feebly those protections are enforced by the OEA", he said.

He said the failure of the OEA to do its job had left his client "even more vulnerable to the duress applied".

Soy Franchises denies that it applied any duress to Ms Murata. It says she was aware of the terms contained in the AWA and signed of her own free will.

The case is continuing.

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