Save 20% off! Join our newsletter and get 20% off right away!

When Things Go Wrong with 457 Visa

When this scheme first came out, the 457 work program promised great benefits for Australian companies as well as to overseas workers in need of better employment.

This program assists Australian businesses find skilled workers who are currently in short supply locally. Allowing overseas skilled workers to come and work for a sponsoring company will keep the business productive instead of closing down or moving to another country where skilled workers are more readily available.

For the workers, a 457 visa gives them a chance to work temporarily in Australia and earn as much as their local counterparts. They will also enjoy the same privileges accorded to Australian workers.

This kind of arrangement can only benefit both the employers and the employees. But like all good programs, not everything always goes as intended.

Things can sometimes go awry. Take the case of Jessie Cayanan, a 457 worker from the Philippines. Cayanan has recently lodged a complaint action against his Australian employer of four months for unfair treatment.

I met Jessie Cayanan during one of his Worksafe Victoria appointments. Cayanan was in the lobby talking with someone sympathetic to his plight. He resigned from his job in an automotive service business after four months of working due to a breach of contractual obligation by his employer.

Cayanan, who is  a skilled welder, was assigned to work as an exhaust pipe fitter in Melbourne. The salary that was stated in his contract  was reduced by more than half by his employer because, according to them, Cayanan was not sufficiently qualified for the position that was nominated. 520 dollars would be taken back by them in cash each time Cayanan received his weekly salary.

So technically Cayanan was being paid his full salary, but in reality he only received less than half. What was left after- wards was not even enough to live on, let alone to send some back to his wife and three children in the Philippines. To add to his woes, Cayanan suffered an accident while at work. While he was cutting a pipe, the cutting disk shattered. Some parts of the tool cut him in the forehead and abdomen. His employer did not bother to send him to a clinic, instead he was told to go back to work after being reprimanded for negligence. He recounted how he worked that day with blood dripping from his forehead. The bandage strips used were not big enough to cover the wound. This accident happened a few days after he voiced his intention to resign.

Cayanan is now out of work and in limbo. He cannot seek out other employment because of his pending case. His employment prospects are also limited because of his 457 visa. He can only work in the welding industry and not in any other area. At the moment, he has run out of money and is faced with the prospect of having to leave. If not for the kindness  of some friends, hement fees demanded by unscrupulous agencies in exchange for the promise of  easy work and permanent residency in Australia. But as soon as they come to Australia, some unlucky ones experience another type of abuse – rorting. Rorting the 457 work program can take many forms, e.g. assigning a worker to a job that he wasn’t trained for, being given work which is not agreed upon, getting insufficient pay and so on and so forth.

The late university graduate Pedro Balading was hired to supervise a cattle farm in Northern Territory, but was required to do menial tasks like fencing which were not in his contract. The difficult and unsafe working conditions resulted in his early death. According to Cabanos most 457 workers like Balading lack the courage to complain. They would rather tolerate the infringement of their rights than be deported back home.

The 457 workers’ desperation to cling to their Australian jobs is probably what makes them susceptible to would not even have any place to stay.

According to Greg Cabanos, deputy of Migrante Australia, a progressive organization that protects the rights of migrants, Jessie’s plight is just one of the many cases of abuse suffered by 457 workers. Some of these workers’ nightmares began even before coming to Australia.

Back home, they had to content with the excessive job placement-exploitation. Most Australian companies deal fairly with their employees, but there are a number of unscrupulous employers who will lose no sleep in taking advantage of workers who are desperate for a job.

They can choose to neglect their obligations to these workers and be confident that no one will speak out against them.

Workers who find themselves wronged by their employers should not hesitate to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman or with the Immigration Department. If you think your rights as a worker have been infringed or if your employers do not abide by their commitment or if your workplace does not follow safety rules, speak out.

There is a need to call attention to any illegitimate practices in order for these to be identified and corrected. The easiest thing is to approach the relevant labour union for help or if this is not possible, Fair Work Australia.

Reporting the situation to the authorities will not only help you, it will also help others in a similar situation.