The Guardian 25 April, 2007

457 visa workers get organised

Over a hundred workers on Section 457 visas have joined the Australian Manufacturing Workersí Union (AMWU) in Western Australia in the last six months in order to protect themselves against exploitation from their employers.

The workers, mostly from the Philippines, have been encouraged to join the union by activists within their own community who have experienced mistreatment from their employer and turned to the union for help.

The AMWU has campaigned for many workers mistreated under the federal governmentís visa laws, which allow business to undercut the going Australian rates by using workers on visas.

Roberto Arsenal, a 457 visa worker who has led the drive in his community, said he was helping the AMWU reach Filipino workers because most of the workers donít know they have rights or who to turn to if things go wrong.

"When the AMWU came to my workplace, they were the first people to tell me that I had rights and that they were there to help me. Guest workers are in the dark about these things."

WA AMWU organiser, Joel Asphar said that the workers who are joining the union are eager to become active.

"They want to meet as a group and we want to facilitate their involvement in the union."

Asphar said that the activists were determined to recruit as many workers as possible into the union.

"There are nearly 500 working south of the Swan River in Perth. Roberto and his mates will not stop until they have recruited all of them."

The activists spend a couple of evenings a week and occasionally on the weekends visiting other Filipino workers at their homes to talk to them about industrial laws in Australia and how joining the union can be of benefit to them.

"Itís quite an achievement when you consider the fears and pressures experienced by the workers. Many of them are worried about being deported if they speak up or complain."

The AMWU has assisted many guest workers who have been threatened with the sack and deportation if they question their pay or working conditions.

"Many of them donít hesitate once they realise that the union is the only organisation who is looking out for their interests."

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