Welcome to the August edition of the Migrant Workers Centre newsletter. This edition covers updates about:
- COVID-19 emergency relief payment for migrants
- International Student Visa Information Session
- Worker Story
- Arabic Workers Forum
- Multicultural Safety Ambassador Program: Round 3
- Working Holiday Maker Inquiry Submission
- Equal Pay Day
- Translated Resources
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Payment for Migrants
This month, the Migrant Workers Centre and the Migrant Worker Solidarity Network have been phonebanking to connect temporary visa holders with the Red Cross’ COVID-19 emergency relief payment. The payment of up to $400 is available to temporary visa holders in Victoria who are facing extreme financial hardship. To be eligible, you need to demonstrate you have little or no income or savings, and to be able to upload your recent bank statements. Click here for more information and to apply for the fund.
While the Migrant Workers Centre welcomes this support from the Victorian government for temporary visa holders, we’re continuing our calls for ongoing income support for migrant workers from the Federal government. If you or someone you know needs help with the application, the Migrant Workers Centre can help. Click here to make an appointment.
International Student Visa Information Session
Over three dozen people attended an online International Student Visa Information Session last week hosted by the Migrant Workers Centre. The session was presented by Sanmati Verma, immigration specialist and migration advisor at the United Workers Union.
As a result of international travel bans, COVID-19 related job losses and tertiary education courses moving online - many international students are facing uncertain futures that impact their visa status. This online session covered key information about applying or reapplying for the student visa, and explained processes for responding to alleged visa breaches.
A primary reason many international students do not report wage theft is for fear of visa repercussions. The prohibitive 20 hours per week work limit for international students means many are forced to work cash in hand jobs to make ends meet, while dodgy employers also often take advantage of students in these desperate situations. Providing information about processes and rights around visas is a crucial step in empowering migrant workers to speak about exploitative work conditions.
If you missed the session, we’ll be sending a follow up email with the information covered. Fill out this form to receive the follow up information.
Worker story: Transformative workplace win for migrant workers
Workers at a large recycling factory in Melbourne have achieved transformative changes at their workplace and recovered over a million dollars in stolen wages. These hard fought wins have been a result of the organising efforts of the workers and the Australian Workers Union (AWU).
The Migrant Workers Centre first became aware of the situation at the factory a year ago when a worker came to us for assistance after being injured at work. He had broken his leg falling from a platform but the employer asked him to lie about how he sustained the injury. The Migrant Workers Centre assisted him with filing a WorkCover claim and in this process, discovered rampant wage theft and the hazardous work conditions at the factory.
James* - a migrant worker from Sri Lanka had worked at the factory for 3 years - describes the exploitative conditions they faced. “I used to work 6 to 7 days a week. I was doing night shifts so I started at 6pm and finished at 6am. We will have one lunch break... I was casual all these years.” He says, “we don’t take any leave - even if we are sick, we go to work. We saw [management] sacking workers who have taken sick leave.”
Like James, many of the workers there were migrants who had come to Australia as refugees and were on Bridging Visas. The employer took advantage of their temporary visa status and their unfamiliarity with Australian workplace laws. James said, “We are scared to talk to them. As a refugee - it is extremely hard for us to find any jobs. I don’t want to lose my job, So I never raised any issues with management.”
The Migrant Workers Centre worked with the AWU to leaflet the worksite and empowered workers to join the union. The AWU reported the employer to the Fair Work Ombudsman, and after a year of investigation, the employer was forced to back pay the workers.
Since unionising, James says “I am very happy. Our work hours have been reduced to 8 hours and five days.” Unionising has also empowered the workers to overcome language barriers. James says, “we now talk to the union organiser if we have any concerns and he talks to management. It is also very easy to talk to the organiser as he speaks our language.”
James’ story is a testament to the power of union and what can be achieved when workers come together.
*Name has been changed.
Arabic Workers Forum
In August, the Migrant Workers Centre held a ‘Know Your Work Rights' forum for Arabic-speaking workers. This event was held on Zoom and broadcast live on Facebook. It was led by Migrant Workers Centre organisers along with Hasan Jaber from the Migrant Worker Solidarity Network. Delivered in Arabic, the forum covered important information about accessing support payments during COVID-19 as well as workers' rights during the pandemic and under stage 4 lockdown. If you missed the forum, you can watch a recording of it here.
Multicultural Safety Ambassador Program: Round 3
Applications for the third round of the Multicultural Safety Ambassador Program (MSAP) closed last week. This round has been the biggest of the program so far, with over 120 applicants - more than the last two rounds combined. Reflecting the recent community engagement work of the Migrant Workers Centre, many applicants came from community organisations the Centre has worked with throughout COVID-19, including community groups representing residents of local public housing towers which have been particularly impacted by lockdowns.
The impact of COVID-19 has meant that the MSAP program has had to be adaptable and transition to online delivery. Around a dozen successful applicants will participate in a training program covering workplace OH&S, workers’ compensation, rights at work and media. Participants will also be skilled up to deliver community education and train the trainer courses. Through the MSAP, the Migrant Workers Centre has been able to engage with broader audiences in different languages by training and skilling-up existing community leaders to empower their communities from within.
Working Holiday Maker Inquiry Submission
The Joint Standing Committee on Migration is currently holding an inquiry into the Working Holiday Maker program. The intention of this inquiry by the Government is to look at how the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program can play a role in Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19. The Migrant Workers Centre has made a submission to the inquiry with a number of recommendations. The key recommendations are:
- To remove the regional work requirement for the second and third year extension of the WHM visa.
- To remove the restriction that prevents WHMs from working with an employer for longer than six months.
- To expand access to Medicare and the Fair Entitlements Guarantee to Working Holiday Makers.
Countering the narrative that WHMs are in competition with ‘locals’ for jobs, the Migrant Workers Centre is advocating for structural changes that will remove the causes that make WHMs vulnerable to exploitation by employers and ensure work conditions are fair for everyone regardless of visa status.
If you’re experiencing wage theft or need assistance with a workplace issue, you can make make an appointment with the Migrant Workers Centre here.
The Migrant Workers Centre is also working to bring more attention to this issue in the media - if you’d like to share your experience as a Working Holiday Maker, send us an email at [email protected].
Equal Pay Day
Friday 28 August was Equal Pay Day. The Migrant Workers Centre joined calls from unions for pandemic leave for all working women. The Women’s team at Victorian Trades Hall Council led a campaign highlighting the disadvantages women faced at work before COVID-19, and the additional burdens that have been placed on working women since the pandemic. Women are more likely to be in casual work and have shouldered much of the job losses, yet have also faced increased caring responsibilities at home.
We know these challenges are further exacerbated for migrant women who are even more likely to be in insecure work. Women in Australia are also retiring with less superannuation than men, and the exclusion of migrants from the JobKeeper wage subsidy means the retirement savings gap will be even wider for migrant women.
As part of the day, the Women’s team at Trades Hall led an Equal Pay Day COVID-19 panel discussion. Speakers at the panel were CEO of Genvic Tanja Kovac, political scientist and associate professor at La Trobe University Andrea Carson, and Industry Professor of Indigenous Policy at the University of Technology Sydney Nareen Young.
Translated COVID-19 Assistance Information
A key priority throughout COVID-19 has been ensuring migrant communities are receiving up to date information about assistance and support services. The Migrant Workers Centre has been working to share information about social distancing, staying at home and the pandemic leave assistance payments in different languages.
We’ve produced radio advertisements in 21 languages and dialects on SBS and 3ZZZ and have assisted in disseminating translated information from DHHS in Somali, English, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, Vietnamese and Turkish.