Justice for Jessie: 457 worker needs our solidarity

Jessie Cayanan, a 457 visa worker from the Philippines, faces deportation after being ripped off by the company that brought him here. Filipino migrant organisations in Melbourne rallied in early August to demand permanent residency for Jessie and all 457 workers.

The AMWU has helped Jessie fight his former employer and look for a new job. But the union would not support the rally to demand permanent residency for Jessie, despite a motion at its state conference that the union would defend 457 workers against deportation, because it wants 457 workers kept out of the country.

Jessie came to Australia on a 457 visa to work earlier this year. Jessie told Solidarity, “I did everything I needed to come here, passed all the exams, the skills recognition test, the English test, medical, everything. I applied from the internet through an agent and have 15 years experience as a welder.

“I arrived here in February and started working. Then after one month my boss told me that I am not 100 per cent competent in exhaust fitting and they would cut my salary from $977 to $450 a week.

“I had to withdraw $520 from an ATM every week and bring it back to them, so that on my payslip it appears that everything is fine. If I don’t accept that agreement they said they will send me home.

“I still needed to pay my [work-placement] agent $129 a week for a personal loan of $7000. I was left with $20 a week to live on. So I couldn’t send any money to my family any more. I also experienced bullying, getting told fuck you and called idiot especially from the boss.”

Jessie finally quit his job after he was injured at work, when he was hit by a metal blade and cut on his forehead and abdomen. According to Jessie, “They just gave me a tissue and said go back to work.”
Jessie’s 457 visa meant he had less rights than other workers, and he now faces deportation. Legally 457 visa workers can be deported within 90 days if they lose their job. As Jessie put it, “If you finish your job and can’t find another employer you have a big problem. With 457 visas, you don’t have the right to stay. It’s better to have permanent residency.”

After Jessie lost his job Filipino migrant organisation Migrante helped him find alternative accommodation and took him to see the AMWU.

The union helped Jessie try to get justice from his former employer, “They helped me look for a job and fight a legal case against my employer. We went to the Fair Work court, the Fair Work ombudsman.” But Jessie remains without work and so is in danger of being deported. Thanks to the campaign, Jessie has now won an extra 60 days in Australia to find another employer. The AMWU has suggested he move to South Australia where they have a union organiser who is helping 457 visa workers find new jobs.

The unions have used cases like Jessie’s to call for the scrapping of 457 visas. But the unions campaigning against 457 visas have been unwilling to campaign to get him permanent residency.
“I want them to give me a visa that has work rights so I can stay here in Australia. … I cannot do this alone. I need to fight for my rights and justice and keep on fighting,” said Jessie.

Instead of focusing on stopping 457 visa workers getting here, the unions should take up the fight to organise them and fight for their rights.

By Chris Breen

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