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Temporary visa workers

Globalisation has brought about a massive restructuring of economies and new international divisions of labour. The global expansion of trade in commodities was followed by growth in trade in services, an increase in foreign investment and the redistribution of components of production around the world. Transnational corporations in their pursuit of maximum profits have shifted operations to locations which offer such benefits as government subsidies, generous tax concessions, deregulated labour markets, and cheap non-unionised labour.

For example, following the signing in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico, multinational companies in the US closed their plants and shifted across the border to Mexico where labour laws were weaker, labour was cheaper and environmental laws did not operate. Various estimates put the loss of US jobs as a result of NAFTA range from 700,000 to nine million.

Immigration has provided capital with a ready source of cheap labour. This has been a long-standing practice in Australia. Employers are increasingly seeking to import workers on a temporary basis – often referred to “guest workers” – and known as temporary visa workers in Australia.

In Australia, where foreign workers have traditionally been accepted as migrants with permanent residency and the possibility of citizenship, employers have already brought in over 200,000 workers on temporary Section 456 & 457 visas. They arrive in Australia with false promises of a bright future but in reality are used as modern-day slaves with little or no rights.

These workers, often from non-English speaking backgrounds, work on lower rates in fear of deportation if they speak out or join a trade union. During downturns in the economy they lose their jobs and are sent home, often without their full wages or other entitlements. In some cases companies instead have sacked local workers ahead of temporary visa workers. Feedback suggests they remained and in many cases replaced local workers.

At the peak of the mining boom, multinationals and politicians used the media to create the impression there was a shortage of skilled labour. The government used these claims as an excuse to introduce the Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA), which lists Western Australia as a regional economic zone and allows for the importation of some 2,000 workers for the Roy Hill project, in what appears to be a pilot for this model, These workers will come and work for as little as award rates (if they are lucky), which are a fraction of the rate won in union agreements and being paid to other workers.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new agreement which is currently being negotiated between the US, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam sees US corporations pushing for unrestricted access to Australian government contracts and opposing purchasing policies that protect local jobs and workers’ rights. US corporations have also made public submissions opposing commitments to workers’ rights being in the agreement.

The export of labour sees workers from Bangladesh travelling to India and Dubai; Filipinos all over the world; East Europeans across other EU countries, Chinese workers into Singapore, Australia and Europe; Irish and Greek workers to Australia, Canada, the US and other parts of Europe. The transportation of workers has become a lucrative business in itself.

Temporary visa workers are used to break solidarity, pit worker against worker in a race to the bottom. It creates fear and divisions, fosters racism and xenophobia, as workers who lose their jobs or cannot find work in one country see the foreign workers being brought in as “taking their jobs”. Temporary visa workers are not the enemy of the working class in Australia. They are part of the international working class and must be welcomed.

The CPA campaigns for:

  • Workers to organise to ensure visa workers are paid the same wage rates and enjoy the same working conditions and other entitlements as local workers.
  • All workers to join their unions and join the struggle for the wages and working conditions of all workers, then these corporations cannot succeed in their agenda.
  • An end to all forms of racial discrimination.
  • All temporary visa workers given permanent residency and the possibility of citizenship.

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