DOWNTRODDEN DOWN UNDER:：An Australian Broadcasting Corp report showed Taiwanese were among foreign workers being underpaid in slave-labor conditions
Staff writer, with CNA
Thu, May 07, 2015 - Page 5
Taiwan’s representative office in Australia yesterday said it has taken measures to deal with reported exploitation of Taiwanese on working holiday visas in the country.
Concerned about an Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) investigation that said foreigners were toiling in slave-labor conditions, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia said it immediately contacted the Australian immigration authorities and law enforcement agencies and urged them to probe the report.
Australia, which does not have a capped quota for working holiday program participants, is the most popular destination for young Taiwanese adults seeking working holiday programs.
Using footage from secret cameras, the ABC investigation found that some migrant workers are being grossly underpaid and working up to 18 hours a day in harsh conditions, an Agence France-Presse report said.
“There’s slave labor in this country,” Australian Member of Parliament Keith Pitt told the ABC’s Four Corners program about workers in farms and factories picking and packing supermarket foods.
“It’s something we need to get rid of,” he said.
The program interviewed several young workers who were underpaid by thousands of dollars. In some cases, they earn just A$18 (US$14) per hour instead of the legal award wage of A$25, the report said.
“In other cases, a group of laborers from Hong Kong and Taiwan were being paid just A$13 to A$14 an hour for backbreaking work, while Australian workers doing the same job were paid more than A$20,” it said.
“I’ve thought this is very unfair ever since I came here,” said a Hong Kong worker who picks cucumbers in Queensland.
By comparison, Taiwan is set to increase its minimum wage to NT$120 from NT$115 per hour starting in July, while Hong Kong this month raised its minimum wage to HK$32.50 (US$4.19) per hour.
The ABC said the exploitation is widespread, particularly in farming communities in the states of Queensland and Victoria.
Following the ABC program, Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations Natalie Hutchins said her local government would conduct an inquiry into the exploitation of migrant workers and would push for a national response.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia, based in Canberra, said it has also asked Taiwanese representative offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to closely follow the case.
It said the reported exploitation is likely to involve just a few illegal labor brokers and employers, and is not a common occurrence.
It also called on Taiwanese on the working holiday program in Australia to defend their rights and be brave enough to say no to bullying and exploitation in the workplace.
Taiwanese Working Holiday Youth (T-WHY) spokesperson Syu Wei-ting (許韋婷) said brokerage firms attract young people to fill illegal labor positions by advertising themselves as study exchange programs.
“Currently there’s a legal void in regulations on such cases,” Syu said yesterday, adding that T-WHY intends to lobby for legislation to clamp down on illicit brokerage firms.
She said a joint effort is required from diplomats and officials in the labor and education ministries to protect the rights of young Taiwanese.
“We demand the Ministry of Education to launch educational campaigns in campuses across the nation, especially in vocational schools, where more youth are likely to fall victim to the situation,” she said.