Newsletter of July 2018

Ms Roqara, centre, at a meeting with other workers from Vanuatu, who have come to Australia under the government-run Seasonal Worker Programme.  Photo: Eddie Jim

Photo: Eddie Jim, The Age

Migrant workers sue labour hire company as government increases regional legal support

Shaking off the dirt as long-time victims of abuse and exploitation, a group of migrant workers from Vanuatu brought their labour hire company to the Federal Court in July, demanding a landmark 10 million in penalty against the company, according to The Age.

Backed by the National Union of Workers, Tulia Roqara, one of the five workers who took legal actions against Brisbane-based Agri Labour and its owners, alleged that she was underpaid as much as $11,000 for four months work through both underpayment and unlawful deductions from her pay.

Charles Power, lawyer representing the five the workers, claimed that "this is the first legal action" using the new Protecting Vulnerable Workers amendments to the Fair Work Act which allow massive penalties against employers what breached them.

Meanwhile, the state government in Victoria announced $580,000 in funding for legal support over the next two years in key regional areas such as Shepperton and surrounding Geelong, as SBS exclusively reported.

More than 200 workers on temporary visas are expected to receive face to face employment assistance and benefit from the program hosted by Victorian Legal Aid and other regional partners.

The Melbourne-based Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) welcomed the announcement.

“These migrant workers are doing difficult jobs in harsh conditions, and they deserve to be respected at work like anybody else,” Matt Kunkel, Director of MWC said. “Access to knowledge of workplace rights is essential to ensuring justice in workplaces.”


African communities fight back against racist reporting amid intensifying dog-whistling politics

Some 500 protestors joined a rally outside Channel Seven’s studio in Melbourne in late July after one of its programs controversially pictured youth crimes in some suburbs in the city as “African gangs”, according to The Age.

Young members of Melbourne's Sudanese community organised the event and voiced their anger of generating fear of migrants of African background.

“We're students not gangs,” organiser Sebit Gurech said. “People should not have to see me on the train and be afraid. I am more than the colour of my skin.”

The allegedly racist report wasn’t an isolated incident. Earlier in July, the Liberals were accused by activists of “racist dog-whistling” as they dispatched flyers that depicted a group of young men in hoodies with their faces obscured and claimed only the Liberals will “stop gangs hunting in packs”, as The Age reported.

“It's clearly designed to dehumanise African Australians and other migrant groups,” GetUp! Human Rights director Shen Narayanasamy said. “(It is) a clear dog-whistling campaign by the Liberal Party in Victoria aimed at dividing Victorian communities”.


Food delivery companies under union fire as government closes legal loopholes

Companies such as Foodora and Deliveroo faced mounting legal challenges from the Transport Workers Union and the retail workers' union, as their unionised riders filed underpayment and unfair dismissal cases at Fair Work, as SBS reported.

Joshua Klooger alleged he was unfairly dismissed in March 2018 when he started speaking publically about his pay and working conditions.

“[Foodora] doesn’t care at all about the workers who do the hard work,” Mr Klooger, 28, claimed Foodora gradually paid workers less money throughout the employment.

The pressure not only came from the unions and workers, but also from the government.

As SBS reported in early July, the Victorian state government introduced new regulations that ensure drivers and bike riders working for food delivery apps would have the same protections as owner-operator truck drivers.

“These reforms respond to changes within the industry and the emergence of online delivery platforms, to ensure the laws that govern these businesses continue are effective and drivers are protected,” said Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins.