For many people who leave Mainland China to earn a living in a more developed country, it can seem like a dream come true. However, it can also become a nightmare.
The latest data shows people born in China represent the third-largest ethnic group in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 447,400 first-generation Australian residents who were born in China, and this represents 1.9 per cent of the population.
Despite the high number, many Chinese migrants have accused Australian employers of exploitation and belittling them.
This has prompted Melbourne law firm Spicer Lawyers to team-up with the Tenants Union of Victoria and state government-funded Ambulance Victoria to create the Australia China Care (ACC) advocacy group.
“The Chinese community in Australia is about to stand up for its rights. Our new group, ACC, will represent and protect us, and offer us quality services most of us don’t have in this country,” the website said.
The group offers:
- prioritized “personal attention” to members, regarding their legal issues
- free ambulance cover 24 hours a day and seven days a week
- tenancy advice to ensure they are not “ripped off”
- workplace assistance, if they are underpaid or not paid properly
- access to a 24/7 telephone hotline for any problems, questions, or even for transport to their home in an emergency — 1800MyChina
- access to high quality volunteer work with respected local firms and charities to improve their CV
- members-only parties at Melbourne’s best night clubs and restaurants
- free courses on local laws, customs, employment opportunities, and more
More than 500 people have already paid the $300 annual fee to join, according to The Melbourne Age.
Migrant exploitation cases are ‘widespread’
Sadly, there are many cases of Chinese workers being exploited in Australia.
In May 2015, The Age reported the Australia’s workplace watchdog, the Fair Work Ombudsman, had discovered three Chinese backpackers were underpaid by a combined A$9,800, or A$3,266 each.
Fair Work ruled the pickers had been paid illegal hourly pay rates while working for five months during 2014 under the 417 working holiday visa in Murchison, Victoria.
Facing regulatory pressure, the company finally agreed to pay the backpackers what they were owed.
More than 100 migrant workers ‘swindled’
In October, major vegetable producer Covino Farms was accused of swindling more than 100 migrant workers in Gippsland.
The funds, approved by former State Minister for Regional and Rural Development Peter Ryan in August 2013, provided Covino Farms with a grant of up to A$1.5 million as part of the previous state government’s Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund.
“I will be making no payment to Covino Farms until and unless I am satisfied that Covino Farms have complied with their legal and contractual employment responsibilities,” State Minister for Regional Development Jaala Pulford said in a public statement.
“It is deeply concerning that the former minister for regional development approved a variation to the contract to include contractor workers — despite widespread claims of unfair working conditions for contract workers engaged by rogue labor hire companies.
“I have requested that my department obtains legal advice in regards to the current contract between the Victorian State Government and Covino Farms. Upon receiving this advice I will consider the matter further.”
‘Questionable’ conduct scrutinized
Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins promised to scrutinize other questionable conduct by business.
“In addition to Minister Pulford’s decision, we will also be undertaking an inquiry into labor hire, sham contracting, and phoenix activities,” she said in a public statement.
“I will also be raising these issues at the next meeting of Commonwealth, state and territory ministers for workplace relations, and work health and safety. We need a national strategy to deal with worker exploitation, and we need it now.”
No worker should be denied fair work conditions
State member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing believes no worker should be denied fair workplace terms and conditions.
“The vast majority of Gippsland farmers and businesses that do the right thing shouldn’t be disadvantaged in competing with companies who cut corners,” she said in a public statement.
“Stamping out workplace exploitation and creating productive and secure jobs for Gippslanders is crucial, and the Minister’s decision is evidence that we’re serious about protecting workplace rights for Victorians.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Four Corners television program revealed migrants working on interstate farms were paid less than A$4 an hour.
They also suffered what they describe as “slave-like conditions,” such as being forced to sleep in dog beds.