Despite a government crackdown following a 4 Corners report earlier this year, young workers on working holiday visas are still being exploited and abused in the workplace.
Workers are being paid illegal rates, being manipulated by employers, and are working in unsafe conditions – and it’s only getting worse as a recent 7:30 Report on the ABC reveals those in the Australian meatworks industry are still facing these conditions.
Last week, a young Taiwanese meatworker who took her experiences of workplace exploitation public on the popular news and current affairs program the 7:30 Report on the ABC, was sacked from her job 2 weeks later.
Amy Chang was employed by labour hire firm AWX and working at Wagga Wagga’s Teys Cargill abattoir when she was told to leave after a friend who suffered a bad cut to his finger asked her to translate for him when he visited the meatworks clinic.
“The doctor told Tommy ‘you need to care about your finger because it can’t get wet and you need to keep it dry’,” Ms Chang told 7.30.
But she said the company had ordered the worker, Tommy Yu-Tang Hu, back to his normal job, where his finger was exposed to blood and became more painful.
Ms Chang said Teys Cargill would not give him his medical certificate when she asked for it on his behalf.
“The clinic manager suddenly got very angry and said, ‘Amy, we want you to leave now, leave now and just get out’,” she said.
“And Tommy he looked very scared. [He said] ‘my God, what can I do? I can stay here, but nobody help me’.”
Ms Chang was then escorted off the premises without any explanation.
Amy Chang is one of the many growing international workers in Australia’s food production industry, but as she has soon come to realise, many Asian workers here are being overworked, underpaid and exploited.
She was employed after registering online with Australian largest private labour hire agency, AWX, which actively recruits overseas workers in Mandarin. AWX is one of the major labour suppliers for supermarket chains Woolworth’s and Coles.
Ms Chang revealed that from day one, her and other workers were not properly trained in their job, leaving many of them to use sharp utensils and operate machinery with risk of being seriously injured.
Amy told the 7:50 Report‘s Matt Peacock, “No-one training us. It’s just one boner. He’s such very busy for his job. No-one teach us, so we need learn how to use the knife and we’re very scared to hurt ourselves.”
In the three-week ‘training period’ Amy and her fellow workers spent up to 11 hours a day at the factory, without pay. In addition to this, Amy and the other foreign workers were given a form to sign headed “Application to undertake voluntary overtime hours”.
But as Amy revealed, this work was “not voluntary. Just like forced you to overtime work. You don’t have a choice. You cannot say no because no choice to you. You need to signing. Otherwise you need to get home, you need to go back to your home.”
The AWX form also states, “I have been advised that this work constitutes voluntary overtime hours, and as such is payable at the current ordinary rate of pay.”
The 7:30 Report confirmed this, also revealing Ms Chang’s payslip which read “Normal hours: 38 hours, $16.86” (that is the minimum rate of pay for every worker in the meat industry) “Overtime hours: 10 hours and 25 min, $16.86”.
That’s illegal. You can’t pay workers ordinary rates of pay for overtime.
The sad truth is that hundreds more workers are facing these same injust conditions, but are too afraid to speak out for fear of losing their job and their only means to a livelihood. Most Asian workers employed in these meat and poultry plants are too frightened to speak out publicly about their plight, and Amy Chang’s courage to speak publicly about worker rights and exploitation has cost her own job.
AWX later stated it was investigating claims she had attempted to bully a nurse into “improperly releasing private patient details”.
It also accused Ms Chang of taking her mobile phone into a sterile food preparation zone, a claim she denied.
The meatworkers union’s Grant Courtney claimed Ms Chang had been targeted because she spoke out publicly in defence of her fellow workers.
“If this company had an ounce of public decency this worker would be returning to work as soon as possible,” he said.
To watch the video or read the full transcript on Amy Chung’s story, please follow this link. With thanks to Christina Coombe for todays story submission.
Help protect worker rights by supporting or lobbying to these following Unions and keeping up to date with local actions in your area:
Meatworkers Union (AMIEU)
Australian Workers Union (AWU)