The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) is calling on the Australian Government to improve labour regulations after the Federal Court found two Fijian workers had been exploited.
Two men who were brought to Australia on the proviso of training were found by the court to be employees, not trainees, of Sydney-based Devine Marine Group, according to the findings released this week.
Justice Richard White found that Captain Brett Devine's marine salvage company, Devine Marine Group Pty Ltd, breached the Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award by failing to pay two Fijian workers minimum hourly rates and weekend penalties in 2011.
Instead, the company purported to pay them a daily $100 "living away from home allowance", which was at least $60 a day below their ordinary hours entitlement.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) eventually had a win in the Federal Court against DMG after prosecution of the case began in 2011.The case of the two Fijian men, who were brought to Australia on subclass 456 visas, came to the attention of the FWO when one of the Fijian men had to be attended to by emergency services after collapsing on a barge in Port Adelaide.
The court heard that the men often worked 12-hour days sometimes seven-days a week for a flat rate of $100 a day, far less than Australian minimum wage.
ITF President and Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said he was disturbed by the findings and that cases like this would likely become more commonplace as visa laws were relaxed by the Abbott Government.
"The Federal Court has found that the two Fijian workers have clearly been exploited by an unscrupulous employer," Mr Crumlin said. "Yet rather than tighten the safety net for workers being exploited, since coming to power the Abbott Government has been actively watering down protections.
"New rules being planned or put in place by the Abbott Government such as Free Trade Agreements, Designated Area Migration Agreements, the deregulation of coastal shipping, utilization of Maritime Crew Visas in the offshore and the loosening of requirements surrounding 457 visa
program will make it more likely that unscrupulous employers can get away with exploiting workers.”
In his summary of findings, Justice White said Captain Devine admitted that he would have been "very annoyed" had the men had gone to work somewhere else.
"[Captain Devine] said that, in that event, he would have contacted the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that the men's visas would be cancelled," Justice White said.
"I accept, that Capt Devine said to [the workers] more than once words to the effect: If you don't like it, you go back to Fiji'."