Workers paid ‘less than $40 a day’ on ‘specialist visas’: Australia’s modern slavery shame

Nicholas McCallum

MEDIA RELEASE: Thursday August 2, 2018

A multinational energy company engaged to work on Australian solar farms is using a special visa subclass to exploit foreign workers and allegedly pay them less than $40 a day.

The Electrical Trades Union of Australia has learnt that Schneider Electrical is using the 400 class visas to bring four foreign workers to Australia and exploit them on slave wages while it makes a mockery of the nation’s visa system at the same time.

ETU National Assistant Secretary Michael Wright wrote to the French energy company on Tuesday demanding an explanation why four Schneider employees are being paid such a shameful and inadequate wage and how they are allowed to perform tasks which they are not licensed to do.

“To hear that workers in Australia are being paid such menial amounts for a day’s work is a shameful act that must not be allowed in this country,” Mr Wright said.

“The ETU understands these four workers have been surviving only because of their fellow workers’ generosity, with workmates chipping in to give them some extra cash.

“Workers in Australia, employed by a multi-billion-dollar multinational company like Schneider, shouldn’t be relying on charity to get by. This is exploitation, plain and simple.

“But why these men were set to work on jobs for which they are not licensed is a question that Schneider needs to answer,” he said.

The ETU is yet to receive a reply from the company, but Mr Wright said Schneider’s claim that there were no local electricians with sufficient skills to work on two solar farm projects in New South Wales and Queensland was too hard to believe. 

“The ETU has more than 60,000 members across Australia and I find it impossible that none of them were qualified to work on these Schneider jobs,” the National Assistant Secretary said.

“This company has neglected its duty to find local workers and instead chosen to exploit foreign workers and Australia’s visa system at the same time.

“Malcolm Turnbull claimed he closed the loopholes in our temporary visa program, but it seems there are breaches still being exploited by unconscionable companies.

“There needs to be a full inquiry into Australia’s visa system to make sure these gaps are closed so that foreign workers are no longer used like slaves by companies undermining industry standards.”

It is clear Australia needs an independent commissioner to adjudicate instances of wage slavery, as the ETU indicated last month in its submission to amend the Modern Slavery Bill 2018. 


Media enquiries: ETU National Communications Coordinator – Nicholas McCallum

0419 499 886, [email protected]

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