Danish multinational Maersk Line was paying some of its itinerant workers less than $3 an hour on the Shelf’s gas fields, AWU national secretary Paul Howes said.
Their full-time Australian counterparts are earning average annual salaries of $132,000.
“Teenage McDonald’s workers would be paid more than these Filipino gas-field workers,” Mr Howes said.
The foreign workers were brought in from the Philippines under what seemed to be dodgy arrangements to perform painting and maintenance roles, Mr Howes claims.
“Our union delegates have checked carefully and seen the passports of these workers,” he said.
“They were shocked to see these workers do not have their presence in Australia stamped into the passports, even though they come in and out of Australian waters.
“If they don’t exist as far as Australian authorities are concerned it is extremely easy to mistreat them.”
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government took allegations of worker exploitation extremely seriously.
“It is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” the spokeswoman said.
“These allegations will be given close attention and investigated by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.”
It was not appropriate to speculate on what the investigation may or may not find, Mr Bowen’s spokeswoman said.
The union accepted the need for guest workers but said they should not be used to undermine Australians with cheap overseas labour.
The Filipinos had approached union members at the North West Shelf, off Western Australia’s north-west, complaining of being mistreated and paid poorly.
These workers should be treated with respect and decency, on Australian pay rates and working conditions, Mr Howes said.
“The union is standing with these workers,” he said.
The workers were hired by a Hong Kong-based firm, Pocomwell Ltd, in the Philippines.
Pocomwell specialises in finding skilled workers for oil fields and the maritime industry.
“We will not stand by and allow cheap labour to be trafficked in and out of Australia so that a profitable Danish multinational can increase their profits on the back of Asian workers,” Mr Howes said.
A 2008 direction from the workplace ombudsman found the immigration department was wrong to allow foreign workers into the gas-field industry under 456 visas, Mr Howes said.
The visa is a short-stay business visa designed to fill highly specialised and short-term jobs.
The union said the visa does not seem appropriate for the Filipino workers.
Mr Bowen’s spokeswoman said that while overseas workers played a critical role in meeting critical skills shortages they could not be used as a source of cheap labour.
“They must be paid no less than an equivalent Australian worker.”
Maersk has been contacted for comment.
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Immigration To Probe North West Shelf Slave Labour Claims