VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Book review on temporary migrant workers

Ned K.

Australian journalist Peter Mares has written a book called "Not Quite Australian - How Temporary Migration Is Changing the Nation". 

It is worth reading as it provides much information on the challenges that temporary migrant workers face in Australia.

Why is this important? These workers are being used by big business to drive down wages and conditions and to cause division within the working class and weaken organisation on the job.

Regarding 457 visas, Peter Mares argues that "the 457 visa shifts the balance of power in the workplace in favour of employers and renders migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation. It does this by reducing migrants' mobility in the labour market. It is not that 457 workers are irrevocably tied to one employer for the duration of their visa - they can seek an alternative position - but 457 visas holders are far less free than Australian workers to change jobs."

What are the barriers to mobility? According to Mares, 457 visa holders must find an alternative employer willing and qualified to sponsor them for a 457 visa job. If a temporary migrant is unemployed for more than 90 days without a sponsor they must leave the country.

If a 457 visa holder switches employers, then the clock starts at zero again regarding the time they need to be continuously employed to qualify for permanent residency. Is it any wonder why migrant workers on 457 and other types of visas remain silent when they know they are being paid less than the legal amount under the "fair day's pay for a fair day’s work" wages system which is supposed to exist under "democratic" capitalism"?

Peter Mares provides many more situations that the more than 1 million temporary migrant workers face in their struggle to survive in Australia.

Employers are well aware that many (Mares says about 40%) temporary migrant workers want to stay in Australia. They need to have continuous work for at least 2 years to progress their visa status. To some employers this means at least two years of cheap labour and a way of undercutting competitors on labour costs and making greater profits. Where the temporary migrants are overseas students, the degree of exploitation is even worse because there is a restriction of 20 hours a week that they are legally allowed to work during their study terms of the year. The overseas students are not all from wealthy families and without much financial support from their families back home in their country of origin, they are forced into working above 20 hours for as low as $3 an hour in one case and usually cash in hand.

Underpinning all the types of temporary visa workers in Australia is that they have no political rights in the country worth speaking of. They speak out at great risk to their short and long term plans regarding their stay in Australia. 

It is a great challenge, perhaps the greatest challenge for progressive unionists to find the way to include these workers in the organised class struggle against the common oppressor of all workers - imperialism and its manifestation in the employer-employee relationship. These workers have great first-hand experience of what exploitation under capitalist relations of production and services is all about. Objectively they are among the most exploited within the working class as a whole and a breeding ground for leadership of the working class struggle for an independent and socialist Australia.