Toowoomba diocese rejects DIMA's guest worker claims

The Toowoomba Catholic Social Justice Commission has dismissed claims by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs that there is a direct path to permanent residency for Toowoomba's guest workers, saying it is "not as straight forward as suggested".

Sandi Logan, the Department's National Communications Manager, had earlier responded to last month's Migrant and Refugee Sunday call by Toowoomba Bishop William Morris' for greater rights and support for migrant workers arriving in the region on temporary work visas.

Mr Logan claims that "there are many pathways to permanent residency" for "457 visa" holders with "around 20 per cent of all holders of the temporary skilled business visa" granted permanent residency last year.

But Bishop Morris and the Commission say that the Department's claims "do not ring true" for migrant meat workers on the Darling Downs and South West Queensland.

"We also maintain that the process of gaining permanent residency for a person currently engaged in the meat industry in this region is not as straight forward as suggested by the Department," the Commission said in a statement released yesterday.

"We do not claim to be experts on the way the visa is used throughout the country - but we do have concerns about the way the visa is being used in this Diocese," it said.

The Commission stressed that it is not against a "properly implemented 'guest worker' type scheme" and that "it is a great sign of solidarity to match labour needs with the needs of those living in less well off countries."

However, it points out that a high level of English proficiency is required and that the process of obtaining permanent residence "in our view would take years rather than months."

"The low level of English proficiency held by some of these workers makes this process all the more difficult when one realises that there are no avenues for free English language assistance in the centres in which these workers are employed," it said in the statement.

"We are not suggesting special treatment for migrants," the statement concluded, "just that they receive the same entitlements as their fellow workers."

Meanwhile, the Government has been forced to defend its guest worker visa program in Parliament after the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that a $60 million mill and plant being constructed by ABC Tissues in Sydney's Wetherill Park had been closed for a fortnight after allegations of breaches of immigration and workplace safety regulations involving its Chinese guest workers.

The ACTU yesterday released a statement saying that the incident raised further fears that the Government is using its temporary visa program to create "a tier of second-class workers in Australia who have no rights and are vulnerable to being underpaid, mistreated and abused."

"Unions have exposed unsafe and exploitative working conditions for the Chinese workers at the $60 million Wetherill Park tissue-paper mill construction site in western Sydney," ACTU President Sharan Burrow said.

"Time and time again we are finding instances of gross exploitation of temporary overseas workers under the Federal Government's 457 visa program."

Response to the DIMA (Toowoomba Social Justice Commission, 4/9/06)
New foreign work visas issued for unsafe site (Sydney Morning Herald 5/9/06)
Unions fear Fed Govt visa program will create new tier of second class workers (ACTU 4/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Toowoomba Catholic Social Justice Commission
Sub Class 457 Visa (Dept of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs)

Toowoomba bishop concerned about regional migrants' rights (CathNews, 25/8/06)

5 Sep 2006