Chinese company paid workers on Adelaide site as little as $1.90 an hour, claims Regulator

18 July 2010

Workers recruited from China to dismantle a press at the former Mitsubishi site in Adelaide were paid as little as $1.90 an hour, it is claimed.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that 24 Chinese employees at the Clovelly Park site were underpaid more than $131,000.

It has launched a prosecution against the Chinese-registered China Sanan Engineering Construction Corporation in the Federal Magistrates Court in Adelaide.

Fair Work Ombudsman Executive-Director Michael Campbell says it is alleged that Sanan brought the employees to Australia to assess and supervise the dismantling and removal of a press formerly used by Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd.

They worked on the site from October 29, 2009 until the end of June, 2010.

Mr Campbell says it is alleged Sanan paid the workers between 2005 and 6603 Chinese Yuan a month, or $A1.90 and $A6.75 an hour, until March.

It is alleged the workers were entitled to receive at least the Australian Federal Minimum Wage, which was $14.31 an hour at the time.

The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated the matter after receiving information from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

Mr Campbell says foreign companies operating in Australia must comply with Australian workplace laws, including minimum pay rates.

It is alleged the Chinese workers arrived in Adelaide on subclass 456 visas, which are designed for short-stay business visits of up to three months for specialised, non-ongoing work here. These were later cancelled by DIAC.

Mr Campbell says Sanan reimbursed its workers when they returned to China in March with an “overseas travel allowance” which satisfied the alleged underpayment of the minimum wage. Some subsequently returned on 457 visas.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman is committed to its role of enforcing Australia’s labour standards for international workers and will take decisive action against employers who seek to exploit foreign workers,” he said.

“Strong and persistent messages need to be sent to employers that both deter this type of behaviour and reinforce the fact that exploitative practices will not be tolerated.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges Sanan committed two breaches of workplace relations laws. It faces a maximum penalty of $33,000 for each contravention.

The matter is listed for a directions hearing on November 16.

Media inquiries:

Craig Bildstien, Director, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
0419 818 484
craig.bildstien@fwo.gov.au

Richard Honey, Adviser, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
(03) 9954 2716, 0457 924 146
richard.honey@fwo.gov.au

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