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Late pay and long hours, workers say

UNHAPPY: John Phillips, former KP Pro contracts manager, KP Pro supervisor Justin Jo and CFMEU representative Chikmann Koh allege workers are being exploited.

UNHAPPY: John Phillips, former KP Pro contracts manager, KP Pro supervisor Justin Jo and CFMEU representative Chikmann Koh allege workers are being exploited. Photo: Melissa Adams

Dozens of foreign workers in Australia on 457 skilled visas have allegedly been exploited by a Canberra company on building sites around the capital.

Some of the men are working on a new building in the city's south for the federal government, which has pledged to crack down on "rorts" in the 457 visa program.

According to statutory declarations from some of the workers employed by Mitchell-based KP Pro Group, workers have been forced to work unpaid overtime each week and to wait up to six weeks for payment.

CFMEU protest at Mort St, Braddon.

CFMEU protest at Mort St, Braddon. Photo: Colleen Petch

But the company has denied exploiting its workers, dismissed one of the complainants as a disgruntled former employee and said its trouble with paying wages was a direct result of two of Canberra's recent high- profile building company collapses.

About 100 union members led by the building union CFMEU converged on one of KP's sites early on Tuesday morning, an apartment construction project on Mort Street in Braddon, in what they have dubbed a "community" protest.

A former employee of the company said that the wages of the Australian nationals hired by KP were "prioritised", with workers from overseas forced to wait up to six weeks for their money.

CFMEU ACT Branch secretary Dean Hall at the protest at Mort St, Braddon.

CFMEU ACT Branch secretary Dean Hall at the protest at Mort St, Braddon. Photo: Colleen Petch

One Korean declared that he was sponsored by the company last December to work as a painter in Australia on a 457 skilled migration visa despite never having worked in the trade.

The man, Taehyoung Jo, said he was recruited through a Korean language website just after finishing his accounting degree at Macquarie University in Sydney, and worked an average of 55 hours a week while being paid for just 38.

KP Pro Group, which employs more than 30 Koreans, undertakes painting, joinery, paving and tiling for residential and commercial projects throughout Canberra.

John Phillips, the company's former contract manager who has also signed a statuary declaration alleging exploitation, said that the KP employees on the federal government's new Centrelink building in the Tuggeranong suburb of Greenway had been forced to work 14-hour shifts for no overtime pay.

Mr Phillips said he decided to speak out because he was disgusted by the company's treatment of its Korean workers. "The way these guys have been treated has been quite disgusting and they [have just as much] right as anybody to be treated fairly," he said.

"They don't get paid at the same time as the Australian employees,"

Mr Phillips said KP's overseas workforce had recently been forced to wait for several weeks for their wages. "Out of 68, only 25 got paid and the rest didn't get paid for about six weeks," the former manager said.

"They get asked to work from 6.20am until whatever in the afternoon but [in] the joinery section, they might be working there until 10 o'clock at night with half an hour lunch break. If told to go home, they'd say 'we can't, because the boss will be angry'."

KP's director, Jin Ho You, said his company was struggling after the local firms Ply ACT and Urban Contractors went into administration owing KP a combined $1 million. The director conceded that wages had been paid late but said the only prioritising was towards men with dependent families.

"We've been waiting for pay from when Ply happened; there's seven hundred grand owed to us," he said.

"There is outstanding overtime but the boys are aware of this and I'm very happy for you to talk to them about it. They'll get paid, but we don't have any money at the moment.

"We got hit by Urban Contractors, there's a massive debt outstanding there too."

Mr You denied Mr Phillips' accusations, saying his staff did not even start work at 6.20am.

4 comments

  • Its a shame that construction work skills training isn't the done thing in Canberra so that exploitation of overseas workers would not be the norm. Local construction companies are not given a fair go when shonky companies import skilled workers, pay them less than the award and accommodate them in sub standard conditions. The reason why we have a shortage of skilled construction workers in the ACT is because the CFMEU and the MBA are reluctant to offer skills training to unemployed Centrelink customers and others who are looking for work. And reporters like Noel Towel do not dig deep enough into skills training statistics to expose the truth - that shows very few construction workers have their certificate III in construction work. Poor training always leads to poor safety and exploitation of workers and struggling contractors. Its also a shame that projects like the Cotter Dam and ASIO building did not train any steelfixers and other similar trades during the construction, instead of using imported labour from interstate and overseas. Maybe its time for a proactive rather than a reactive approach to fixing problems like skills training and exploitation of workers.in the ACT construction community. . .

    Commenter
    DaveC
    Date and time
    March 26, 2013, 8:35AM
    • Welcome to the future. Why do you think Abbott is in favour of 457 visas? Because it allows Gina and friends to bring in as many overseas workers as they want at lower rates of pay and poorer working conditions than Australians. Abbott views unions as the anti Christ and this is an easy way to circumvent union power. Any idiot can see that Abbott will rebadge Work Choices and immediately remove penalty rates and job guarantees. He will change unfair dismissal laws yet again and place all power in the hands of employers. Why is no one asking Abbott the hard questions? Oh I forgot, he's hiding from the media. Find the wonderful Youtube clip where Gina says people from overseas are happy to work for $2 a day etc. Sadly there are a number of employers who are happy to take advantage of people,e.g certain Canberra restaurants which have recently been prosecuted. Once penalty rates and working conditions have been removed it will be impossible to get them back. Many low paid workers, like nurses survive on penalty rates. Abbott will use the usual black hole cliche to justify slashing, burning and removing the rights of workers. This of course is complete piffle, it's simply a conservative belief that unions are evil, all rights should be in the hands of employers and that employees should kiss the ground for having a job. They also believe that everything should be farmed out to private enterprise. Labor will be crushed in September but within a couple of weeks people will realise they've made a monumental mistake.

      Commenter
      Eric Olthwaite
      Date and time
      March 26, 2013, 10:08AM
      • Don't know what the fuss is, I and many aussie born and breds who work in the ACT in a trade have spent years working 40, 45, 50 hours on 38 hour wage payments but we do get paid weekly and do get some over and above company entitlements.
        Interesting to see if any of these 457's get accomidation, transport, etc relief, just curious.

        Commenter
        OLD DOG
        Location
        ACT
        Date and time
        March 26, 2013, 12:16PM
        • Now these are silly questions I know but it is alleged one of these 457 gents is a newly uni graduated accountant so what is he doing there keeping an unemployed person out of a job and my 2nd silly question is why are there any 457 persons there at all when we have a plethora of capable dole bludgers doing just that, dole bludging.
          Wake up government/s and stop wasting our taxes.

          Commenter
          BIGGLES
          Location
          ACT
          Date and time
          March 26, 2013, 5:51PM
          Comments are now closed
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