From Fri Nov 1 06:30:10 2002
From: “Moloto Mothapo” <>
Subject: Daily Labour News
Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 03:52:17 -0800

Globalisation sets scene for migrants' hyper-exploitation

By Terry Bell, Business Report, 1 November 2002

Globalisation and the deregulation of labour markets have created conditions for an international system of hyper-exploitation of migrant labour.

This point was brought home dramatically in Australia last week when a South African worker was injured on a remote construction site 500km west of Sydney.

Oagiles Malothane was severely injured when scaffolding and 120 tons of cement collapsed at the site of a new water tower he was working on.

Another worker and the South African-born construction boss, Anton Beytell, were killed and two other workers were injured.

The injured men—one of whom lost a leg—were rushed to hospital. After six days, Malothane was suddenly taken from hospital and put on a flight back to South Africa.

“He was whisked away,” said South African high commissioner Zolile Magugu. “There is something fishy about the whole thing.”

The high commission had been under the impression that Malothane would spend at least another 10 days in hospital and would undergo extensive physiotherapy.

“He was still in a lot of pain and we certainly did not authorise his discharge,” said high commission first secretary Rasheeda Adam.

What the high commission had been able to establish was that the return air ticket was bought by Beytell's widow.

The injured Malothane was met at Johannesburg International Airport by a reported labour broker, Ladus Erasmus, who took him home to Potchefstroom and presented him with a “gift” of R4 000.

The local Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has also established that Malothane was only paid A$100 (about R560) for more than three months of seven-days-a-week labour.

“We believe that his family were also given A$100 a month,” said CFMEU regional secretary Andrew Ferguson. “It was an obvious scam.”

However, Australia's controversial immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, this week lashed out at the high commission.

“They are making claims with no evidence,” he said.

But union inquiries have already unearthed the fact that Malothane arrived in Australia on August 5 on a visa that declared him to be a potential investor. Yet within days he was at work as a labourer.

This week the union had a senior health and safety official, accompanied by a lawyer, at the remote site of the accident.

“This was clearly unlawful and we’re looking into the whole question of unpaid wages and compensation,” said Ferguson.

But he stressed that the incident was not an isolated one. What the Malothane case had done was to highlight a major and growing problem of the gross exploitation, on an international basis, of migrant labour.

“It's another price workers are having to pay for globalisation and deregulation,” Ferguson noted.

Driven by poverty and joblessness and lured by unscrupulous employers, thousands of workers were constantly on the move around the world.

More industrially developed countries with stronger currencies were an obvious attraction to the poor desperately seeking work.

They were also attractive to migrant employers who find that the quickest way of establishing themselves in their new environment is to contract for work at lower rates than more established businesses.

“That usually means cutting corners on safety and illegally paying lower wages,” said Ferguson.

Nationally, the CFMEU has established that, on average, migrant workers employed in this way are paid only half the legal minimum wage.

Many, as in the case of Malothane, are paid even less. The local trade union movement now estimates that there are between 60 000 and 70 000 “overstayers” in Australia who are working, many for low pay in dangerous conditions.

Added to this were several hundred thousand individuals who gained work while on tourist visas.

This was a contributory factor to the death rate of one a week on average on construction sites in Australia.

“Construction workers now account for 18 percent of all industrial injuries here every year,” Ferguson added. Many of the illegal migrant workers were employed by companies run by legal migrants from their own countries.

“But we have yet to have a prosecution of an employer for illegally employing such people,” said Ferguson.

He felt this was evidence that government agencies and employers often colluded in practices that not only lowered wages and worsened conditions but also weakened trade union organisation. However, the unions were fighting back.

While the problem of illegal exploitation of migrant labour was growing, gains had been made in terms of conditions in some sectors.

By this week, for example, more than 50 local construction companies had agreed to a 36-hour working week.

“We’re not kidding ourselves that this will stop the slave labour that is going on. But it is the start of a fightback,” Ferguson said.