Filipino workers paid “slave labour” rates on the North West Shelf could be entitled to tens of thousands of dollars in back pay, the Australian Workers Union says.
The Department of Immigration on Wednesday launched an investigation into union claims the Filipino workers were being paid less than $3 an hour on the Shelf’s gas fields off Western Australia.
The two workers were employed by Danish multinational Maersk Line through Hong Kong-based contractor Pocomwell Ltd, a company specialising in finding skilled oil field workers in the Philippines.
The workers’ full-time Australian counterparts are earning average annual salaries of $132,000.
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said the two workers had been flown to Perth on Tuesday night.
Another two Filipino workers set to replace the two on the gas fields are also in Perth.
“We’ve been told they will get Australian pay rates back paid, following the expose of their slave labour pay,” Mr Howes said.
Mr Howes said some workers have been in Australian waters on-and-off for months at a time since 2009 and could expect back pay in the tens of thousands of dollars.
The workers, who were filling painting and maintenance roles, were brought to Australia under the 456 visa program, which is designed to fill highly specialised and short-term jobs.
Department of Immigration representatives were expected to meet the workers in Perth on Thursday.
“We have told the government that we cannot stand by and allow what is essentially the trafficking of cheap labour from Asia into the remote northwest of Western Australia, and no one takes notice or seems to care,” Mr Howes said.
It was important the department was able to spend time interviewing the workers, as too often trafficked workers were spirited out of Australia when these scams were uncovered.
“Once that happens it is hard, often impossible, for police, the Immigration Department, and others, to gather the evidence of misuse of guest workers,” he said.
The details of the potential visa misuse are subject to an ongoing departmental investigation.
Mr Howes said it was clear in Asia that gang bosses wander around small villages offering work opportunities in Australia, “opportunities which sound like a dream, but in reality often turn into hell”.
Maersk Drilling managing director Martin Flojgaard said the company had determined the Filipino workers did not hold the correct visas.
“As a consequence, we have decided to discontinue our cooperation with this company,” Mr Flojgaard told AAP.
Mr Flojgaard said the employees were not employees of Maersk, but the company wanted to uphold its values as a responsible company.
“Consequently we have offered them accommodation in Perth while discussions about their situation is being held by their employer and relevant authorities.”