In all but name, Australia has become a nation of guest workers and will be more so. Decades of under-investment in skills is coming home to roost as our demographics and a resources boom collide. As an alternative to rampaging inflation, it’s not a bad thing.

For political reasons though, the federal government can’t quite call our guest workers “guest workers” and regulate their importation accordingly. Instead, they’re holders of “temporary work visas” and are left prey to unscrupulous agencies and the supervision of the Immigration Department. Yes, that immigration department.

The Smage has been steadily building a file on exploited guest workers. Today’s effort is the one about the Chinese man at a printing plant who had to pay his boss $10,000 over a four-year contract while working a 60-hour week for $752. It’s hard to see much difference between his case and the indentured Thai and Chinese prostitutes in our brothels.

Meanwhile there’s the ongoing saga of an ABC Tissues building site in Sydney with a raft of imported Chinese construction workers. That one’s made it to Federal Parliament, perhaps because Philip Ruddock attended the sod-turning ceremony.

With construction labor costs skyrocketing, business wants many more guest workers. So do State governments with understaffed health systems – and they’ll take just about anybody.

While regulation is left in the grey half-light of 457 visas, there will be no shortage of exploitation. Amanda Vanstone is in charge. 

Peter Fray

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