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Education and Employment References Committee
14/07/2015
Australia's temporary work visa programs

ANDERSON, Miss Sharra, Branch Secretary, AMIEU South and Western Australia Branch

MITCHEL, Mr Greg, Member, AMIEU South and Western Australia Branch

[09:56]

CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has received your letter. I invite you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Miss Anderson : Firstly I would like to thank the committee for making time for us to be heard today. I understand that you have already heard from the AMIEU on two occasions, so I wish to just touch on one issue that is widespread, and that is where workers coming in on a 457 visa who are supposed to be skilled are simply not and are therefore trained by the locals. The company involved in the instance I am referring to is Thomas Foods International, which is based at Murray Bridge and is one of the largest processing companies in the industry, employing between 1,000 and 1,100 workers at this particular site. The problem with locals training these workers is, firstly, that they are supposed to be already skilled, which is the whole point of them being brought in in the first place. Secondly, once they are trained a number of the locals are displaced, including the people who trained them, and we have evidence of that, and that is what we wish to put forward to you today.

In August 2011 the union wrote to the immigration department expressing its concerns with T&R, as it was formerly known—it is now Thomas Foods—with regard to the visa workers being unskilled and the local workers being displaced. The immigration department referred this to the Fair Work Ombudsman to investigate. A meeting was then set up with the ombudsman and Immigration, with both the local workers and some of the visa holders, and that meeting was held in Murray Bridge. Both the locals and the visa workers explained exactly what was happening regarding being trained by the locals and the fact that once they were trained they remained on the chain to learn further whilst the locals were displaced to make room for them. Today I have brought along with me Greg Mitchel, who was present at the meeting with the ombudsman and Immigration and continues to work with Thomas Foods International. That concludes my summary. I am trying to keep it brief and on the one topic.

CHAIR: Mr Mitchel, do you want to tell us what happened with the 457 visa workers and the meeting with the Fair Work Ombudsman?

Mr Mitchel : They were talking about how they were treated, and what we taught them to do, and they asked us to keep an eye on it and let Immigration know if they were mistreated or abused. That is probably about it.

CHAIR: At Murray Bridge, how many 457 workers are there, and which sections of the meatworks are they employed in?

Mr Mitchel : In the section I work in, the mutton slaughter floor, in the jobs I do, the percentage of Aussies to 457s is pretty big. There are 17 of us on the chain, and seven of those positions are Australian. All the rest were 457s, although there are probably three now who are 457s. All the rest are now permanent residents. But we train them on the job and were displaced, taken off the job, and they were put in our positions.

CHAIR: So, there were 17 on the slaughter chain, and at the time 10 of those were 457s.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: For those of us who are not from South Australia, where is Murray Bridge?

Mr Mitchel : It is 70 kilometres that way, from here.

CHAIR: What is 'that way'?

Mr Mitchel : South—towards Melbourne.

CHAIR: And it is a regional centre.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Is there high unemployment in the area?

Mr Mitchel : There is, in Murray Bridge. There is high unemployment. There is the meatworks there and the piggery and a few other factories.

CHAIR: Why are there 457 workers there when there is high unemployment in the area?

Mr Mitchel : You would have to ask the bloke who employs them. They just prefer to employ the foreign workers, because they can dictate to them and provoke them and force them to do what they want.

CHAIR: Are the 457s from a particular country? Or does it vary?

Mr Mitchel : The first lot who came out were from China. Then the Filipinos came out. I think there are still a few Filipinos coming out.

CHAIR: You said you had to train them and then the local workers were displaced. Were they made redundant? Were they sacked?

Mr Mitchel : No, we were not sacked. We had to teach them how to use their knives and do the job properly and keep up with the speed we were doing. We were taken off that job and put on a different job. We were still getting paid the money, but the 457s were getting paid more than us.

CHAIR: So, you were put onto a job that paid less money—

Mr Mitchel : Yes, but I still got paid my regular money. They had to do that.

CHAIR: Was that a feature of the award or the enterprise agreement?

Mr Mitchel : It is just something the company did.

CHAIR: Why do they want 457 workers on the chain and not the local workers? Do you know?

Mr Mitchel : Maybe it is because they can make them work harder, because 457s will not speak up when they are getting pushed too hard or abused, whereas we will stick up for ourselves.

CHAIR: These visa workers are supposed to be skilled. Had they worked previously in meatworks in their home countries?

Mr Mitchel : From what I understand, all they probably did was kill for themselves. They did not know how to sharpen a knife properly. They did not know basic cleanliness and hygiene.

CHAIR: When a new worker comes onto the chain, how long does it take to train them up to the level of skill required?

Mr Mitchel : It can take up to six weeks, depending on the job and the person. You will get some people who you can train and they can do it in two weeks, but for most it is four to six weeks.

CHAIR: And that is the same for the 457s?

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: What is their level of English like?

Mr Mitchel : The Filipinos have good English. The Chinese who have been out here for 10 years are still hard to understand.

CHAIR: But when they first came?

Mr Mitchel : You could not understand them at all.

CHAIR: So, they lacked English and they were not skilled in the work.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Does Thomas Foods still use 457 workers in your workplace?

Mr Mitchel : Yes. We just got another one, a couple of weeks ago, but he was transferred from the boning room, which is taking most of them now and had no room for him.

CHAIR: The meatworkers' union has told us, certainly in Queensland, that the boning area is an area where 457 visa workers are used. Is that the case?

Mr Mitchel : It is now, because when they first came out they had to go on the mutton or beef slaughter floor, because apparently they were the only jobs recognised by the government as a trade. Boning was not recognised as a trade at that time.

CHAIR: So they were put into the slaughter area and they are now in the boning room.

Mr Mitchel : Yes, because that has now been recognised as a trade. It was not previously.

CHAIR: What percentage of 457 visa workers do you have in the boning room?

Mr Mitchel : I am not sure exactly. It would probably be around the same percentage as on the slaughter floor. When you look down there you see the foreign workers and not many Aussies.

CHAIR: Despite the high unemployment.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Do you know what sort of advertising Thomas Foods does in the region to seek local labour?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they advertise on the radio and in the paper down there. But I have known people personally who have tried to get jobs there and have nearly as much experience as me, and they get turned down.

CHAIR: So you will try to get locals in—

Mr Mitchel : Yes. I have asked people to go there but they have said there is no point. They have rung up, applied and got rejected. My own daughter tried to get a job there and she was told at the time, 'We're not employing females.' At the same time they said that, they employed four or five dozen foreign workers, all female.

CHAIR: How long ago was this?

Mr Mitchel : It is going back probably six years.

CHAIR: And they said to her over the phone, 'We're not employing women'?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, that is what they told her.

CHAIR: But that is illegal.

Mr Mitchel : This is Thomas Foods we are talking about.

Senator McKENZIE: Did you report that to the Fair Work Ombudsman?

Mr Mitchel : I did not at the time but they do know about it. It has happened before to other people.

CHAIR: It sounds like this meeting with the Fair Work Ombudsman was not a very satisfactory meeting. You were complaining about being displaced by 457 visa workers, yet in the end they told you to keep an eye on them to make sure they were not exploited.

Mr Mitchel : Yes. They were mainly concerned about the treatment of 457 workers than about our issue.

CHAIR: Did they take your issue up—the fact that you had been taken off the—

Mr Mitchel : Not that I know of.

CHAIR: How long have you worked at Thomas Foods?

Mr Mitchel : I have been there 13 years.

CHAIR: How long were you on the chain for?

Mr Mitchel : I have been on the chain on and off for 13 years.

CHAIR: So that has always been your job?

Mr Mitchel : That was when I was displaced by trained 457s. I was taken off one job to do another, trained them there, then was put down to a different job.

CHAIR: So you were taken off the chain.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Did you complain to the company?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, I complained but they just ignored me.

CHAIR: What did you say to them?

Mr Mitchel : I just said, 'It's not right that I'm being displaced by training someone. I don't want to train them.' They did not threaten me but they virtually said that if I do not train them I am out the door.

CHAIR: That is what they said, so you obviously—

Mr Mitchel : Yes, and I cannot afford to go out the door.

CHAIR: No, so you put up and shut up, effectively.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Is it something the union has raised with Thomas Foods?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they have.

CHAIR: Are you the delegate, or are you a member?

Mr Mitchel : I am one of the delegates.

CHAIR: What have they said to the union?

Mr Mitchel : I have not been at the meetings they had with the union but they would probably say the same thing.

CHAIR: Are they paying the 457 workers the same?

Mr Mitchel : They were getting more than us. They were going to, I think—I am not sure what they were on then but it is around $60,000 now, I think, they are guaranteed. A lot of people are complaining because some of those 457s are doing a menial job boning or packing meat and they are getting paid more than the people on level 2.

CHAIR: Yes, because they have to meet the income thresholds.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Are they being brought in by labour hire companies, or are they being directly sourced?

Mr Mitchel : The 457s are employed by the company. All the other ones, the backpackers, are employed by hire companies.

CHAIR: So you have backpackers in your meatworks as well?

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Where are they from?

Mr Mitchel : All over the world. There are Koreans, Africans, you name it.

CHAIR: These backpackers are coming in through labour hire companies?

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: How are they being paid?

Mr Mitchel : I do not know what they get paid. I think they get paid by their hire company. I think some of them are being mistreated with their pay rates too.

CHAIR: Do you have an enterprise agreement at your workplace?

Mr Mitchel : Yes. We are actually bargaining for another one now.

CHAIR: But you have a current one.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: And the labour hire companies are using the meat industry award?

Mr Mitchel : I think they are.

CHAIR: Miss Anderson, you may be able to help us here. In Queensland your union told us that for boners there was a 30 per cent differential between the enterprise agreement and the award and for the rest of the jobs there was about a 20 per cent differential. What is the differential in South Australia?

Miss Anderson : We are very close to the same figures that Queensland has. Our boning and slaughtering jobs at this particular site are around the $30 mark, where the industry is about $19. Then you have labourers being paid about $19 when the award is around the $17 mark.

CHAIR: So on the EBA it is $30 and on the award it is $19 for someone in the boning room?

Miss Anderson : That is correct.

CHAIR: And in the rest—what do you call the rest of the workforce?

Miss Anderson : Labouring or—

CHAIR: Labouring. So for labouring it is $17, you said.

Miss Anderson : Seventeen dollars is the award and under the agreement they get just over $19.

CHAIR: With the 417 visa workers you have who are employed by labour hire companies, what areas of the plant are they in?

Mr Mitchel : They are all over the place.

CHAIR: So they are in the boning room?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they are everywhere.

CHAIR: And what percentage of the workforce are they?

Miss Anderson : We actually had the liaison officer from northern Newcastle branch down in late October, and he spent three days predominantly at the Murray Bridge site. He identified five different agents and between 500 and 600 backpackers on site.

CHAIR: At Murray Bridge. So what is the total workforce there?

Miss Anderson : Between 1,100 and 1,200.

CHAIR: Oh yes, sorry, you told me that. So 500 to 600—

Miss Anderson : They are 417s.

CHAIR: So half the workforce are 417s and then we have got 457 visa workers.

Miss Anderson : That is correct.

CHAIR: How long has that situation been in place?

Miss Anderson : I have been with the union for eight years and in my experience they have always had 457s there. The backpackers are now predominantly ruling over the 457s.

CHAIR: What has been your experience, Mr Mitchel? The backpackers are a relatively new group of workers?

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

CHAIR: Is it over the last two years, three years?

Mr Mitchel : Over the last three or four years.

CHAIR: Before then, of the 1,100 workforce, you had some 457 visa workers but the rest were locally—

Mr Mitchel : We had Afghans and Africans coming. They were refugees.

CHAIR: But they were in Australia on visas, presumably becoming permanent residents.

Mr Mitchel : We have got a lot of 457s compared with Aussies.

CHAIR: With the 417 visa workers, you think there are about five labour hire—

Miss Anderson : Five were identified in October of last year.

CHAIR: Visa workers are on the award, so they are obviously cheaper for the company to use and undermining your enterprise agreement at the site. Have you any evidence of their being underpaid?

Miss Anderson : Yes, I have a couple of payslips on me today that were given to the liaison officer. We have difficulty communicating with them and obviously giving them confidence to speak with us and give us that information. My understanding is that they do pay them in regards to the agreement, but the hourly rate is such that they pay that to the labour hire company and by the time they take out their bits and bobs the worker is significantly underpaid. As Greg states, they do as they are told and they are told certain things, and if they do not like it then off they go. Very few wish to come out with that sort of evidence or provide that.

CHAIR: What are the payslips? Are you able to table those?

Miss Anderson : There is one from World Workers. I am happy to table the whole report from the liaison officer.

CHAIR: That would be good, but if you could read it. What sort of hourly rates are there?

Miss Anderson : There is $16.64, which is below the entry standards. And he also goes from a level 3, level 4 and level 5. There is a mixed functions clause, so if you are doing two hours or more on the higher rate your whole shift should be paid at that rate. You can see here this gentleman has moved from one level to the next to the next throughout the week.

CHAIR: And he just remained on $16.64?

Miss Anderson : It does go up. Level 5 was the $16.64. Level 4 was the $17.68 and level 3 is $19.89.

CHAIR: But you are saying that because they are mixed function—what should the hourly rate be?

Miss Anderson : It should be the higher rate—

CHAIR: So the $19 rate all the time.

Miss Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: Are they housed locally? Do they have to pay accommodation?

Miss Anderson : They are housed locally and they have to pay accommodation. In the contracts they are obligated to stay in the agent's home for up to three months—

CHAIR: Is that what the contract says?

Miss Anderson : Yes, and they are heavily crowded—

Miss Anderson : It does vary. I have heard from $100 to around $150 each, but it is more impacted on the number of people in the one home. I am trying to find the exact figure.

CHAIR: Are they paying, Miss Anderson, the labour hire company to find them work?

Miss Anderson : Yes, there is a $400 agent fee.

CHAIR: So they are paying that upfront—$400, to get a job for which they are then underpaid?

Miss Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: Are any other deductions made? Do they have to pay for training or anything?

Miss Anderson : No; they do pay for their medicals and for Q fever.

CHAIR: Is that a normal charge by the company?

Mr Mitchel : Yes. Everyone does that now.

CHAIR: Do all the agents charge the $400 fee?

Miss Anderson : That was one agent whom we were able to get the fee out of. I know they all pay a fee but I am not 100 per cent sure on the exact amount. Our liaison officer recruited the agent from one of the agencies.

CHAIR: I am sure Senator McKenzie will be interested in that.

Miss Anderson : So he gave us a lot of the detail.

CHAIR: Is the employment relationship by phone and text messages, that sort of stuff, or do these labour hire companies have offices in town? Where are they?

Miss Anderson : I understand that TFI send people over to their country.

CHAIR: Thomas Foods?

Miss Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: So I am a backpacker and I knock on Thomas Foods' door. What do they say?

Miss Anderson : They all refer you to a labour hire agency.

CHAIR: What is the relationship between Thomas Foods and these five labour hire agencies?

Miss Anderson : I would love to know. I am sure there is a connection somewhere.

CHAIR: They could put someone on there and then, could they not?

Miss Anderson : They could.

CHAIR: What would they have to pay them?

Miss Anderson : The agreement rate.

CHAIR: The agreement rate, whereas if they send them to the labour hire company, what do they pay then?

Miss Anderson : The agreement rate minus the agent fees.

CHAIR: But are they paying the award or the agreement?

Miss Anderson : It is hard to decipher with the information, being able to talk to the workers themselves and understand their job level, but from what I have seen, they are paying the agreement rate, so they are told that their terms and conditions are the agreement—

CHAIR: Right, so $16.64 is not the agreement rate.

Miss Anderson : It is at entry level under the agreement.

CHAIR: How long do you stay on the entry level?

Miss Anderson : Up to six months, but the entry level should not be confused with this as people who are new to the industry altogether. Where these backpackers are moving to and fro they should not be on entry levels because they are not new to the industry. So there are other problems.

CHAIR: Right. So they should be on the $19 rate.

Miss Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: Has your liaison officer raised this with the Fair Work Ombudsman, or what is happening?

Miss Anderson : I have lost a little bit of faith in the Ombudsman, given there was no action taken in regard to the meeting with the workers and the visa holders. Quite often members ring up saying they have had advice from the Ombudsman which is totally left field of what the agreement states. I personally have not taken this to the Ombudsman. When dealing with the company, they simply say, 'They're not our employees. Go speak with the agent.' You contact the agent but the majority of them do not speak English or they avoid you like the black plague.

Senator McKENZIE: These are illegal practices, are they not?

Miss Anderson : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: So what is the appropriate thing to do if you uncover an illegal industrial relations matter?

Miss Anderson : Run it through the Fair Work Agency.

Senator McKENZIE: That is absolutely right. So in every case when you are made aware of illegal work practices do you or does your branch of the union refer that to the Fair Work Ombudsman?

Miss Anderson : Where the worker consents us to, yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent, thank you.

Senator RICE: Thank you, Miss Anderson and Mr Mitchel. Mr Mitchel, you talked about the 457 visa workers being willing to do things the Australians residents would not do.

Could you give us some more examples of the sort of work practices they will do that Australian residents will not.

Mr Mitchel : The Australian residents will do it, but they bring the 457s in. In their last agreement before this one, the 457s were told that if they voted against it they would be sent home. While the Aussies say they want to do the higher-rate jobs, they get overlooked because of the foreign workers.

Senator RICE: So you are saying that they prefer to have the 457 visa holders on the chain than the—

Mr Mitchel : Than the Aussies, yes, because they have to pay that certain rate. Some of them do do the lower jobs, and they still get paid the same money as we do, or higher.

Senator RICE: Can you go through it again for me. I am confused. Are they being paid the same rate or are they doing a different type of work?

Mr Mitchel : They do a different type of work. They get a higher rate than that they would get if they were getting what they were guaranteed by the government.

Senator RICE: Why does the company prefer to have them there if they are paying them at a higher rate?

Mr Mitchel : Just so that it is easier to manipulate. They will not stand up for their rights.

Senator RICE: What sort of rights are they not standing up for?

Mr Mitchel : Abuse. They get yelled at. I heard a story the other day that one of the 457s who was working down the stairs had wanted to go to the toilet, but they would not let him go. He actually did his business in his pants. That is a common practice: unless you stand up for yourself, they will not let you do it.

Senator RICE: Do you have any other examples where they are not standing up for themselves?

Mr Mitchel : I am an example. I am on light duties WorkCover at the moment. They dictated to me that I had to go on annual leave for our annual shutdown. And I said: 'No. I'm still on WorkCover. You have to find me something to do.' I had to win that. I was still working while they were on holidays—my department. It has happened with one other girl. They pressured her that much that she took her annual leave. She was pretty well cut up about it. She is that close to it now; she had three days off with a breakdown. That is the sort of intimidation they do toward people, and they get away with it because people do not stand up for themselves. People are too scared.

Senator RICE: Thank you for that. In the time that there have been increasing numbers of 457 workers and 417 workers employed, have the Australian workers there not been replaced, or have there been examples of them being made redundant and being replaced?

Mr Mitchel : Not redundant. Some of them have actually resigned. Eventually, some of the 457s get their permanent residency and then they leave. We lost a heap of them, but then they are replaced by Filipinos straightaway. The company knew that they were going and then they brought the Filipinos in. They train them to take over straightaway.

Senator RICE: Have you got any more examples? You talked about your daughter and others who have applied for work. I am interested in exploring the willingness to work. What we are being told a lot in these industries is that because they cannot get local Australian workers they have to employ people on temporary work visas. Are there any examples of people who are willing to work there who are—

Mr Mitchel : I have spoken to other people who have been trying. My own daughter's boyfriend cannot get a job there because he worked there before and had a couple of days off. That is the way they look at it. Another example occurs when they reckon someone has a drug problem or any other problems, like their capability of doing the job. My nephew was told that he could not do the job because he was too skinny. Again, my lad tried the same thing. He is a big boy. At the time he has having stuff done to his knee—he had a sore knee. They said, 'No; no good.' They prefer to have foreign workers because they can push them to do what they want them to do. They can push them harder.

Senator O'NEILL: I want to go to the matters that you raised, Miss Anderson, around the Fair Work Ombudsman. I think that you just said that you were unhappy and had a lack of faith in the response from the ombudsman.

Miss Anderson : A lack of faith.

Senator O'NEILL: In fact, you said 'no action'. Could you take me through an incidence where you have been engaged with the Fair Work Ombudsman and there has been no action, and explain that process.

Miss Anderson : In this particular incidence that we are talking about, I was not the branch secretary at the time; I was an organiser. But to not have a response whatsoever by either the immigration department or the ombudsman, in regard to Senator McKenzie's comments, makes it difficult. We are trying to give them the confidence that 'All of this is here to protect you, and we can report this here and action will be taken.' When that action is taken it is then hard to instil that confidence in the people, 'It's okay—we're here; we've got something for you. You'll be fine. You're protected,' and all of that when there are no repercussions whatsoever for the company.

In my experience with the ombudsman, just the other week a gentleman rang up—this was at another wholesale place—and asked why he did not get a shift penalty for working the afternoon shift. That was a very valid question. The ombudsman had said that everybody must get the 12½ per cent for afternoon shift. They never asked him whether he was covered by an enterprise agreement. They were answering every question as per the award. This gentleman then came into my office, quite irate: 'Have you sold off my penalty rates? I should be getting this. Why aren't I getting it? You need to fix it.' I sat him down and said, 'What are your questions?' I got out the agreement. We basically did a 'better off overall' test with him standing in the office. I said: 'If I applied the award to your hours of work and we put in that 12½ per cent, this is what you would earn. Now we look at the agreement which you are working under. Those are your terms and conditions of employment. You are actually better off. So, yes, you are not receiving the 12½ per cent penalty, but your hourly rate and your allowances are such that you are better off under the award.' That took me a good 1½ to two hours to work through with this gentleman, all based on the advice that he had received from the ombudsman. That is where I lose faith, because they answer the questions on the award and they do not ask the right questions in order to answer the questions. If somebody says to me, 'I need pay rates,' the first thing we ask is: 'Where do you work? Is there an enterprise agreement in place? No, you are under the retail award. Okay, we need to abide by that.' That is where I lose faith. I hope that answers your question.

Senator O'NEILL: That is an excellent answer, because one of the suggestions that is continually put is: if anything illegal happens, just hand it off to the Fair Work Ombudsman. But the Fair Work Ombudsman has to be resourced at a level—and training clearly needs to be at a level—where, when people contact the Fair Work Ombudsman, they are able to get the correct answers to their questions and be confident that some action will be taken. You talked about the difficulty of talking to agents because of the language barrier. Could you give us an example of what that is like?

Miss Anderson : You first find them. You make contact and give them the list of queries that you have. They take it on notice and say, 'We'll get back to you.' That agent or that contact then no longer exists—it is a new person, who says: 'I speak very little English. Sorry, sorry.' The response is just that they avoid you like the plague. You are forever chasing, chasing and not really achieving anything.

Senator O'NEILL: When you find out about these incidents and you refer them to the Fair Work Ombudsman, do they have the resources to overcome the problem that you have described? Do they find an agent who can speak English? Are you confident that they do that?

Miss Anderson : I am not sure how they go about it. In the most recent incident, which is based around this visit from the liaison officer, it was identified that they were not paying super. Word got out that we would be in contact with them about paying super. Lo and behold, the super gets paid. So they tend to fix what they hear about and then they try to hide it away and then threats come out: 'If you speak to the union, you won't have work.' So everybody shuts up until such time as they have had enough and they say, 'This happened, and this happened, and this happened.' We say: 'Well, we needed to know that right at that time. That's why you're closed off and everything sort of stopped from there.' But there is a genuine fear. My frustration is getting their confidence in order for us to bring these issues forward to the appropriate people.

Senator O'NEILL: We have heard the word 'fear' quite a lot in the testimony that you have given us this morning. Mr Mitchell, you talk about people being pushed too hard or abused, having things dictated to them and being provoked, and people get away with it. They are some of the words that you have used in your evidence this morning. I think you also said that people will put up with these conditions on 457s until such time as they transition to permanent residency.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: And then they leave. Is that correct?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they will leave and go elsewhere, where they can get better conditions and better pay.

Senator O'NEILL: So they are fearful that they will be asked to leave the country?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they have been told that, if they cause a fuss, they will be shipped back home.

Senator O'NEILL: That changes the power relationship, I suppose, in the workplace pretty big-time.

Mr Mitchel : Yes, it does, because they always threaten them around the time we have an agreement, and they put more on. Now we have this next agreement coming up, and I think in the last two months another 150-odd 457s were boning. They are the ones they get to, and they tell them: 'We've given you this job. You stick by us or else you go back home.'

Senator O'NEILL: So, for the period of time that they work for the company, if the company decides not to pay them properly, not to allow them to have a toilet break or things like that, they are so vulnerable that they just put up with it.

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they do.

Senator O'NEILL: It is really quite remarkable, given that they are eventually going to be kicked out of the country, that Ms Anderson gets any one of these workers to actually speak to her about the problems that they are facing.

Mr Mitchel : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: This is the trust issue that you were talking about in a climate of fear. Now you have young people—or, I suppose, people of all ages. Can you give me an idea of the type of people that you are talking about here, Ms Anderson, who finally come to you.

Miss Anderson : They would be between 20 and 30 years old, and they are still not directly coming to me. It is only since we have engaged the liaison officer from the northern Newcastle branch, who is of Asian descent, that they feel a bit of camaraderie with him and they confide in him.

Senator O'NEILL: So you found that the importance of creating cultural safety has now allowed a few of these 457 and 417 visa holders—are they from a range of visa types that are approaching you, or are they all of one type?

Miss Anderson : Predominantly just the 457 or the 417.

Senator O'NEILL: So those two types of visa holders are approaching you now, feeling a little cultural safety and talking about the reality, and you have evidence to give us about incorrect payments and wages.

Miss Anderson : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: In that context, then, they finally get in touch with you, Ms Anderson, and you make a complaint on their behalf to the Fair Work Ombudsman?

Miss Anderson : We usually try to run the underpayment ourselves. Once they have engaged us, they either are very close to leaving or have left already, so they are still not engaging me whilst the practices are happening under the TFI banner.

Senator O'NEILL: Why is that, do you think? Why do they leave it so late or contact you after they have left the country?

Miss Anderson : Not when they have left the country—when they have left the company.

Senator O'NEILL: When they have left the company—okay.

Miss Anderson : Because I guess you cannot lose a job that you have already left.

Senator O'NEILL: This is my last question. This is a pretty big company, isn't it?

Miss Anderson : Absolutely.

Senator O'NEILL: Do they supply Woolworths or Coles or both?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, Woolworths. Woolworths is their major contract with beef in the country. They run the meatworks up there all year, and at the moment they are working six days a week. They have a roster system. They have three 10-hour shifts. They work four days and have a day off here. I think they work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and have Friday and Saturday off. Every fifth week, I think, they get a Saturday off. The whole slaughter force and the boners were pushed into a corner. They had to do 10-hour shifts or they were going to make them work six days a week at eight or nine hours a day.

Senator O'NEILL: We heard from Woolworths in Melbourne. They indicated they had an ethical code of conduct. They thought that they had some moral responsibility but not an industrial responsibility. Do you think Woolworths should be aware of the way in which the meat that they are selling is being prepared?

Mr Mitchel : Yes, they should. They should be well aware of it.

Senator O'NEILL: If you could speak to Woolworths or Coles yourself, Mr Mitchel, what would you say to them about the conditions that you are seeing people work in?

Mr Mitchel : They should come over themselves, somehow, and inspect it properly—because of the conditions and the way the meat is being treated. I was doing duties outside and people in hygiene would go to the toilet and would not even wash their hands. There were wearing their mesh aprons and their knives into the toilet. I reported this to the management and they were telling them off, but that was it. They still do it. They still do not wash their hands. I would not buy the meat myself, to be honest.

Senator O'NEILL: That is a very frightening revelation. Miss Anderson, do you want to add anything to that about the Coles and Woolworths chains? Are they aware of these issues?

Miss Anderson : I do not believe they are. They believe the company ruse. I personally think that if they treated their workers humanely, as the workers treat the animals, things would be a lot better.

Mr Mitchel : For example, if they found out I was here today, I would get the sack. That would be it: boom! We are not even allowed to comment or badmouth them at all. That is part of the agreement.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Ms Anderson, we have Thomas Foods in Murray Bridge. Do we have other major meat houses in South Australia?

Miss Anderson : Yes, we also have JBS and Teys Brothers in South Australia.

CHAIR: Who do they supply to?

Miss Anderson : I am not sure.

CHAIR: Do they have 457s and 417s?

Miss Anderson : They are very minimal, compared to Thomas Foods.

Senator McKENZIE: One of the food processors in my home state of Victoria has had issues with some of the Australian citizens who are of an Asian appearance being mistaken for 457 visa holders. Within this company, Mr Mitchel, when you are talking about Aussies are you including Australians of Asian appearance that may be on the floor as well?

Mr Mitchel : I know the ones that are 457s. I know the ones that are permanent, and I know the ones that have actually been born in the country.

Senator McKENZIE: Okay. I just wanted to clarify. Thanks, Mr Mitchel.

CHAIR: He is a delegate; he knows his job!

Senator RICE: Following up on the issues of being a member of the union or speaking to the union, you said, Ms Anderson, that if you speak to the union you will not have work. How many of the 457 holders are unionised at Thomas Foods?

Miss Anderson : That is a good question. Off the top of my head, it would be minimal.

Mr Mitchel : They have been threatened. If they have joined the union, they have been sent home.

Senator RICE: Do you have examples of that? Could you provide us—

Miss Anderson : As Greg said, we are negotiating the new EBA at the moment. It is only at the start. We always had the thoughts, but it was never confirmed until the start of these negotiations. The company goes around and asks for a representative from each department to sit at the negotiations, and obviously the union is there in its capacity. My first thing was that we need some Chinese representatives. It is all okay to translate the minutes, but I feel that they need to be a part of the process. So I had two of the English-speaking Chinese workers put on to the negotiations. It was only through them that it was confirmed that, yes, last time we did they agreements they had an interpreter on site all the time who literally stood over them and made sure. They had a closed meeting exactly like Greg said—'We sponsor you. This is bad for the company. This agreement's bad. You need to vote up. This is the agreement we want. If this goes down, not good for the company. Not good for the company, not good for the sponsor.' It is only now, four years down the track, when they are permanent residents, that they have confirmed with us that, yes, they were stood over, had a separate meeting and were told that, if they did not vote the way the company wanted them to, they would be on the next plane home and their sponsorship would be cancelled.

But, again, it is always after the fact. Once they get what they are after, whether it be permanent residency or employment elsewhere, it is only then that they tend to let us know exactly what has been going on. Through this process I am trying to say we will scrutinise the vote. I heard there were different colour papers for the voting slips as well so they were easily identified. I have tried to put reassurances in place this time that the whole committee will be present at the time of the voting to make sure that everybody has the privacy to vote the way they want to. But, like I said it is only after the fact or once they have a bit of security that they tend to open up and give us that information.

Senator McKENZIE: Have you let the Fair Work Ombudsman know that?

Miss Anderson : No, I have not.

Senator RICE: Mr Mitchel, do you have any other examples of people pressured not to be a member of the union and not to exert their rights?

Mr Mitchel : I have talked to some of the ones with good English, and they said, 'No, we're not even allowed to talk to you about it.' I am a joint committee representative and I said, 'If you have any trouble, just call me in the office with you, and I will stick up for you,' but they do not, because they are too scared. They are too scared to show that little bit of courage and they panic.

Senator RICE: Because they are scared of being sent home.

Mr Mitchel : Yes. With the two we have now, from the information I am getting from them, their people are not happy at all, so it may be a little bit better for us.

Senator RICE: Thanks.

CHAIR: Miss Anderson, of the workers who were 457 visa workers who are now permanent residents or Australian citizens, would any of those be willing to make that statement that you made on their behalf in writing?

Miss Anderson : I am trying to encourage them to do so, yes.

CHAIR: Thank you. That would be useful. Thank you very much for coming along today. We appreciate the further evidence you have given to the committee.