By ANTHONY IAN CRUZ
Dec. 3, 2007
(PART 2 OF 3)
AN Australia temporary work visa program, dubbed Visa 457, lures overseas Filipino workers of 41,850 Australian dollars (AUD) or at least P1.5 million in annual salaries and up to four years stay Down Under.
An Australian dollar comes up to P39.
But since 2004, Australian media have discovered and bared endless problems affecting foreign workers.
Eleven professional nurses from Pampanga, each with six to seven years’ experience, tried their luck in 2004 with Visa 457, according to a report published in the Philippines.com.au, a Filipino-Australian online forum.
They were jobless for the first seven weeks of their stay in Australia. Their recruiter-employer later provided them with seven-day jobs that compelled them to work 11 to 18 hour shifts a day.
Under the contract, the nurses were to be employed as “residential care officers” but they were made to work as cooks and cleaners, running kitchens and doing janitorial services.
For three months, they had no days off and were paid 75 Australian dollars a week, which all went to their food allowances. But food was scarce or delayed, even if paid in advance.
When they asked for payment for services, the employer-recruiter made them fill up “loan forms” in exchange for sums of up to 500 AUD.
They were also required to pay 250 AUD a week for accommodation in the nursing home that they worked, but since they do not have money, it was added to their “debts” to the employer-recruiter.
The 11 later resigned from their recruiter-employer, with the Migrante-Australia and other groups joining their cause against the abuses that they suffered.
In another example, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported last May the case of 35-year-old Filipino worker Rey Sumpay.
Sumpay arrived in Australia last January and was immediately compelled to pay 2,500 AUD (P94,300) at the Brisbane airport, and an additional 7,500 AUD (P283,000) had to be deducted from his weekly salary.
Sumpay’s recruiter in the Philippines and Waterbrook Enterprises, the Australian company that sponsored his Visa 457, said that 10,000 AUD (P377,368) was for immigration processing, visa fees and airfare.
On top of that, Sumpay and nine other Filipinos had to share rent at 110 AUD (P4,151) each, for their house owned by the partner of a Waterbrook official.
All in all, Sumpay’s weekly take home pay, after taxes and immigration and housing deductions, was between 320-400 AUD weekly, about around 16,640 AUD had he been allowed to work for a year. The amount was less than 40 percent of the promised minimum annual salary of 41,850 AUD under Visa 457.
Sumpay was fired six weeks after arriving in Australia, said the ABC-TV report.
Pedro Balading and Wilfredo Navales suffered a much worse fate.
Balading applied as farm technician at the Myriad Human Resources and Services, and signed a contract with Panoy Pty. He left the Philippines on Feb. 15 together with two other Filipino farm supervisors.
Supposed to work in a farm at Amungee Mungee, Balading and his two companions were instead taken to Wollogorang Station, a 7,000-square meter property with 40,000 heads of cattle. The transfer of place of work was a violation of Visa 457 terms which provided that the workers can only work at one pre-designated place which, in this case, Amungee Mungee.
As farm supervisors in the Philippines, Balading and his two companions were reduced to farm servants forced to do menial jobs, taking orders from less-trained locals, and were paid way below the required minimum wage.
The three worked 10 to 11 hours a day but were paid salaries for only nine hours.
A Sydney Morning Herald report said Balading actually agreed to work for 19 AUD an hour (P717), but the following were deducted from his weekly paycheck: 100 AUD (P3,773) for accommodations, 87.50 AUD (P3,301) for meals, plus other expenses.
Last June 6, Balading fell off a utility van driven “like a madman” by an Australian who his Filipino co-workers described as “a racist.”
Balading died soon after, leaving behind a wife and three children in the Philippines
Earlier, in March, 43-year-old Wilfredo Navales, a Filipino specialist stonemason, was crushed to death by two slabs of granite in a stoneworks north of Perth.
His family said Navales died a slave and was not able to use his special skills for which he was purportedly tapped by the Australian company which sponsored him.
The sufferings of Filipinos under Visa 457 are piling up, and foreign workers from other countries are also complaining, with more reports of abuse reaching Australian media.
The US State Department’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons report has claimed that Visa 457 has led to sex trafficking, debt bondage and slavery of migrants in Australia.
OFWs, however, are not helpless and have taken steps to fight back.