Union calls on Scott Morrison to guarantee an end to migrant worker exploitation in significant defence contracts 

The Electrical Trades Union has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanding a review of government contracts to protect migrant workers from exploitation at Austal Ships in Henderson, Western Australia. In 2020 the ETU exposed a major wage theft scandal at Austal Ships where Filipino workers on temporary visas were being paid a flat rate of $110 for ten-hour days, and no superannuation.

Austal Ships is a critical part of Australia’s defence manufacturing industry. It is in receipt of significant federal government defence contracts.

Austal employed the migrant workers on short term visas to work as electricians, fitters, and pipe fitters, with many not holding the suitable relevant occupational licenses required.

The Federal Government was first alerted to the exploitation in August 2020. The matter was subsequently referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Despite this, the Defence Department has taken no action to investigate or review.

Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) application, it is now clear that Austal Ships was paying far less than the lowest classification under the Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award.

The ETU was not a party to the referred matter and the FWO did not provide information to the union in relation to the progress or outcome of the matter.

ETU Acting National Secretary Michael Wright said the conduct of Austal Ships is unacceptable and the Federal Government must take action immediately to ensure workers are being paid what they are owed.

“Austal Ships are exploiting their workers, while deliberately obstructing the Union’s investigation of the matter. Taxpayers have a right to be sure that our tax dollars are facilitating wage theft and visa exploitation,” Mr Wright said.

“The only reason this exploitation was exposed was because the Union stepped in. What’s to stop it from happening again and again? Why isn’t Scott Morrison’s government using its purchasing power to guarantee even minimum standards?” 

“It is incumbent on the Federal Government to ensure taxpayers are not financing wage theft and visa exploitation. Australians have a right to expect that their Government is enforcing the laws of the land, not facilitating their breach.” 

This article was publised on 13 April 2022.