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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Exploited Filipino migrant workers in Australia: a cautionary yet empowering tale

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Hitec Welding in Brisbane is under investigation for allegedly underpaying Filipino migrant workers for extra domestic work and providing them with crowded accommodation. While this case has been met with outcries of why’s and how could they’s from the community, the prominent revelations are the power that migrants can hold and the gaps that need filling at a state level.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating the Hitec/Tali case and is unable to directly comment, but acknowledge that migrant workers can be particularly vulnerable.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman prioritises matters that involve migrant workers, who we know can be vulnerable to exploitation. In 2019-2020, 44 per cent of the matters we put in court involved visa holder workers,” a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson said.

The power that migrant workers hold is in their knowledge of their rights and the services that are available to them. By having this awareness, migrant workers are able to have conversations with those at a community and government level, seek justice, and as a result become active agents in combating exploitation.

As reported in the Brisbane Times, The Philippine Embassy in Canberra has stepped in with labour attache Cynthia Lamban providing assistance in the last few weeks, ensuring that the the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) was monitoring the situation and made contact the workers.

Chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council Victoria (ECCV), Eddie Micallef has said that there are many options that migrant workers can seek out. 

“Quietly go about talking to your fellow workers, looking up the internet to get as much information as possible, seek out community leaders, seek out trade unions, seek out local government inspectors, local councillors, there’s a whole range of approaches you can use to respond to the predicament you’re in”

As a peak organisation that empowers and lobbies for the interests of the multicultural community of Victoria, the ECCV submitted recommendations for the 2021-2022 Victorian State Budget earlier this year that petitions for a new Multicultural Strategy.

One of the suggestions is to dedicate $3 million to promote mental health among migrant and refugee communities.

Monetary compensation is a key focus in repairing the damage done to migrant workers, with the Fair Work Ombudsman recovering $1.7 million in 2019-2020 for visa holders. However, Mr. Micallef believes that investment in mental health is just as important but has not been a priority.

“The mental health component of an industrial issue, a political issue, a community issue has not been understood or supported or responded to.”

Mr. Micallef also raises concerns that states not having a uniform response toward migrant exploitation can be an issue and that it is important that migrants keep pushing their governments and representative bodies to be accountable.

“Each state have their own various regulations and often they have different attitudes to enforce those regulations”

“We need to keep pushing these and to make a complaint, even going to a local MP’s office, we need to get the message out as far as possible,” he said.

Joe Lewandowski of Hitec Welding pictured here in Brisbane in 2016. He has denied all the allegations made against him by his Filipino migrant workers | Credit: A Current Affair
Joe Lewandowski of Hitec Welding pictured here in Brisbane in 2016. He has denied all the allegations made against him by his Filipino migrant workers | Credit: A Current Affair
Phil Cabudlan (seated on the right) in 2014 with fellow Filipino workers hired by Hitec Welding | Credit: Brisbane Times
Phil Cabudlan with one of his boss's two Lamborghinis.
Phil Cabudlan with one of his employer’s two Lamborghinis. | Credit: Brisbane Times
Canuto Abad with kababayans at Jozef Lewandowski’s mansion. | Photo credit: Brisbane Times
Canuto Abad with kababayans at Jozef Lewandowski’s mansion. | Credit: Brisbane Times

For migrant workers in Australia, you can find out more about the ECCV’s pre-budget submissions here.

Any workers with concerns about their pay or entitlements are urged to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman directly on 13 13 94, via their free interpreter service on 13 14 50, or by visiting www.fairwork.gov.au, any concerns about living conditions can be reported to a relevant state or territory workplace health and safety body. Alternatively, you can make an appointment with the Migrant Workers Centre to seek help here https://www.migrantworkers.org.au/get_help.


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