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Migrant workers take risks to secure a future

ABC - March 5, 2012. "Zandro Sta Maria left his wife and two children in the Philippines and embarked on a journey to Western Australia on a temporary work visa in 2006. "

"He was one of several men brought over to work at an abattoir in the South West and says at times he felt safety was compromised to increase productivity.

"It's normal for management to say 'hurry up, hurry up', because they have their own targets," he said.

"Towards the end of the production day everybody feels tired.

"They push you to the limit, not considering that we are just human."

It's stories like Mr Sta Maria's, and those of other migrant workers, which has prompted a study of workplace safety among Australia's migrant workforce by WA's Institute for Medical Research.

It follows international research which shows migrant workers are more prone to accidents and injuries in the workplace because they undertake high-risk jobs that native-born people are not inclined to do.

As a migrant whose right to remain in Australia depended on his ability to keep working, Mr Sta Maria says he never considered speaking to the company about working conditions.

"I worked myself really hard," he said.

"Considering that I'm from a different country, we tend to work as hard as we can and as long as the body allows us."

Despite working 10-hour shifts, he says he never complained of fatigue in fear of being dismissed and sent back to his own country.

"For us visa holders, we simply cannot say 'I've had enough', because we are hired to work and work and work and when we say 'I've had enough' there may be consequences," he said.

"I was afraid of getting fired.

"At the end of the day, if your goal is to have a better future for your family, you can never really say no."


Associate Professor Alison Reid says despite the increasing trend of looking at immigration to address skills shortages in Australia, little research has been done in this area.

"A study was done about 30 years ago that showed migrant workers in Australia have higher fatalities at work than Australian-born workers, but this work hasn't been updated since," she said.

The study will compare the number of migrant workers to the number of Australian-born workers who are admitted to hospital due to a workplace accident or injury.

Hussain Sadiqi arrived in Australia from Afghanistan in 1999.

He quickly learned it wouldn't be easy to use his skills and qualifications.

"In Afghanistan I was the captain of national martial arts team, and had a sports science degree but that wasn't good enough," he said.

"They said you have to finish university here, and then you can get a job in physiotherapy."

Mr Sadiqi says for many people, the humiliation of not being able to work in their professional field is compounded by being on the receiving end of racism and bullying.

"They have to find something to feed their family," he said.

"That's why any job that comes along, they have to accept.

"Because they're not experienced in that job, they may face bullying and racism."


Australia has some of the highest standards of occupational health and safety regulations in the world but many migrants don't know this.

The Multicultural Services Centre of WA's executive director, Ramdas Sankaran, says many migrants are at a disadvantage.

"Many of these people who come to Australia are not just not proficient in English, but they're not literate in their own languages," he said.

"They're not necessarily familiar with the equipment they are asked to use in terms of safe handling procedures.

"Most of what we do by way of occupational health and safety is done in written English. If you're not fluent in English, where does that leave you?"

Mr Sankaran says employers need to ensure migrants understand the safety guidelines that govern their work.

He recommends visual hazard signs and safety information written in languages other than English.

Mr Sankaran says migrants take on any job they can get, and this is often work they are not accustomed to.

"Out of sheer desperation and nothing else, when a person has qualifications which aren't recognized in Australia, they go into whatever jobs they can lay their hands on and sometimes its employment that may not necessarily be suited to their physical capacity," he said."




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