By Jack Smith
The exploitation of working visa holders by Australian employers has led experts to suggest a complete overhaul of current sponsorship schemes.
The 457 visa program offers skilled workers the opportunity to work in Australia for four years under the sponsorship of their employer.
A recent report by the Education and Employment References Committee found the treatment of foreign employees to be “a national disgrace” and called for reform.
The most common complaint against 457 visa employers is increasing the weekly hours of a contract without pay, described by some as a covert form of slavery by the back door.
“I signed a contract to work 40 hours a week and work 50 to 60, I feel like all I do is work,” said Alicia Gran, a Swedish restaurant manager working in Perth.
The overworking and underpaying of foreign employees is most prevalent in the hospitality industry, a favoured choice for migrant workers.
“If there’s any sector that is subject to breach of the visa it would be the hospitality industry,” said Dan Engles of Visa Solutions Migration Agency.
Workers under the sponsorship of their employers are dependant on them for Australian residency and this means professional misconduct, unpaid labour, underpayment of staff and harassment go unreported.
Not everyone under sponsorship feels that this is a legitimate issue – some hold the view ‘if you don’t like it go home’.
“If you sign a contract you should accept the terms, no-one is forced to stay here,” said Luca Baioni, an Italian bar manager working in Northbridge.
A sentiment echoed by French migrant Julie Arzobide.
“People on working visas are still making more money in Australia than they would back home in France”.