In a singular case on behalf of a Filipino overseas worker (OFW), Western Australia’s largest union the LHMU (Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union)* has filed proceedings against the OFW’s employer in the WA State Industrial Relations Commission. It is alleged that the employer Susan Law of TPL Executive Search Limited has underpaid Fe A. (full name withheld upon request), an LHMU member, by at least AU$50,000 and subjected her to work conditions in breach of the legal minimum.
BY ANIBETH DESIERTO
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 27, August 10-16, 2008
In a singular case on behalf of a Filipino overseas worker (OFW), Western Australia’s largest union the LHMU (Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union)* has filed proceedings against the OFW’s employer in the WA State Industrial Relations Commission.
It is alleged that the employer Susan Law of TPL Executive Search Limited has underpaid Fe A. (full name withheld upon request), an LHMU member, by at least AU$50,000 and subjected her to work conditions in breach of the legal minimum.
Fe was brought into Australia from Hongkong 2 years ago by her employer then under the government’s foreign worker’s visa scheme, which include the S457 and S427 visas. Fe’s employer who was on an Executive S457 visa brought Fe along as her domestic worker on a sub-class S427 visa.
As an S427 visa worker, Fe’s visa is tied to her employer’s Executive S457 visa so that she cannot transfer to, or seek any other employer unless they too are on an Executive S457 visa. Under the visa’s conditions, Fe also had to move to wherever her employer stayed as she is required to live in the same household as her employer.
During her employment in Australia, Fe was not able to avail of any annual leave and hardly any sick leave as her employer expected her to work even when she was in extreme pain, vomiting and was dizzy as what happened to her. Under her employer’s direction she also took her employer’s children overseas if she wanted to have a “break.”
Fe’s work included 24-hour on call household management, care of three young children (the youngest being 7), cooking, cleaning, running errands, taking the children to and from school, and generally a dogsbody, particularly as the employer went on trips for several days every few weeks.
There was a time when Fe was expected to sleep in the laundry. Only when she objected was she then allowed to sleep in one of the children’s bedroom.
Her original work contract of $1500 a month’s pay was reduced to $550 a month with a $1100 charge for board and lodging in May 2008. Even with the original contract wages, Fe received just over $200 for a month’s work due to deductions by the employer, including $200 for a day off she took, which was stipulated as her entitlement in her contract.
“It is important to bring Fe’s case to the State Industrial Relations Commission because this case is undermining the fundamental rights of an Australian worker to at least have the minimum conditions of employment,” says Fiona Bennett, LHMU’s Community Development Coordinator.
“I haven’t personally seen a case like this before but I would say it’s going on and it needs to be highlighted that Fe was prepared to come forward and not as many people would probably be prepared to come forward.”
“Our priority is to get an outcome for Fe to ensure justice is delivered for Fe and with this case, send out a message to employers to maybe think twice about doing what’s happened to Fe.”
Putting Fe’s case together has not been straightforward as there is no category or award for Fe’s work under the Federal Industrial Relations Act which outlines by law the legal minimum conditions for different occupations, nor is there any part of the State Workplace Relations Act which adequately covers Fe’s occupation. (Australia’s industrial relations system is covered by both Federal and State Acts.)
Fe’s case in the State Industrial Relations Commission is slated for a conciliation hearing in the next couple of days.
The Australian Federal government is currently undertaking an enquiry- the “Integrity Review” into the application and monitoring of its temporary skilled visa program under which foreign workers are contracted for employment in Australia – including the S457 visa scheme and temporary sub-class workers visas like the S427 visa. It is expected that changes to these laws will be announced in October this year. Contributed to (Bulatlat.com)
*The LHMU has W.A.’s largest union membership of 25,000 members.