The topic of Guest Workers is giving many - but not all - Australians pause for thought these days. Things have come to a head with government approval of the request of Australia's and the world's richest woman,. Gina Rinehart, to employ 1700 foreign guest workers at her $6.5 billion Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia. Employers report difficulties in recruiting staff for jobs associated with Australia's mining boom. Would-be Australian employees report difficulties in getting jobs associated with Australia's mining boom.
Picture from here
More and more we are seeing and hearing of employees who are treated like a piece of machinery, automatons even. Mining companies once built communities such as Mount Isa in North West Queensland. Now there are the infamies of FIFO and hot-bedding. Across mining communities from Western Australia across to Queensland, reports are coming of drunkenness, violence and anti-social behaviour from workers who are employed on a FIFO basis and have no connection to the local community. In former times in isolated mining communities, leisure activities from sports to little theatre groups and libraries have blossomed. That's not so much the case any more. The predominantly male FIFO workforce tends to be isolated in many ways from the surrounding community (if there is one) and yet impacts adversely on local facilities like the local hospital.
It is clear that the resources boom is not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for everyone - and some people appear to be deliberately excluded from going anywhere near the pot of gold.
And now Gina - and others beside - wants guest workers. Needless to say, these workers will be isolated from the Australian community and questions are asked about wages, conditions, and workplace safety. Questions are also being asked about whether trade union representatives will have access to the mine site and the guest workers to verify wages, conditions, and workplace safety issues on site.
Into all this, I want to bring to the attention of Networkers to the situation of guestworkers employed in the seafood industry in Louisiana, USA. You may wonder what this situation has to do with Australia. It has much to do with Australia. 85% of the product of this particular seafood company goes to Walmart. Walmart has been connected, over the years, to a vast array of workplace injustices across the USA and in China. And there is an Australian connection.
This blog keeps a watching brief on Roger Corbett. Roger Corbett is one of the most influential businessmen in Australia. I would go so far as to say he could be the most influential person in Australia through his strategically acquired directorships. He knows the prices, the economics of every significant part of our economy up front and first hand - whether its the price households pay for food; the price farmers get for their beef; how much Australians spend on alcohol and poker machines; and the pharmaceuticals Australians use. Over and above all this, he is privy - through his role on the Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia - to economic information at the highest level. He also sits on the board of Walmart.
I have yet to see or hear any media interview or article which queries the conflicts of some of Corbett's activities.
Corbett chairs the Salvation Army Eastern Territory Advisory Board. He also chairs the board of ALH Group Pty Limited. ALH is 75% owned by Woolworths Limited - one half of Australia's major food and variety retail duopoly (Coles being the other half) of which Roger Corbett was once CEO.
ALH is noteworthy for being Australia's largest takeaway liquor retailer and it also own more hotels and poker machines than any other person or corporation in Australia. Now this mix of pubs, pokies and Salvos puzzles many people. The Salvos claim they have discussed this with Roger Corbett and he has given an explanation to them and they say they are satisfied with this. However, the Salvos won't tell anyone what the explanation is. And so it is a mystery to the rest of us who find the two positions at odds with each other - unless, for the Salvos as well as for Roger Corbett, it is not about the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed but about money and prestige.
And back to Walmart with its long history of workplace injustices - and we find that Roger Corbett now sits on a board which is connected to, what many people would define as, slave labour. The guest workers at C.J. Seafoods in Louisiana are asking the following:
Walmart needs to meet with us immediately, and to show its suppliers that it won't tolerate forced labor. We’re demanding that Walmart:
1. Cancel its contract with C.J.’s Seafood to show that it won't profit from forced labor in Louisiana.
2. Sit down with us, the striking workers, immediately as a first step toward a real investigation -- rather than a cover-up.
3. Sign the NGA's Guestworker Dignity Standards to prevent forced labor and guarantee civil and labor rights for guestworkers across the Walmart supply chain.
What will you do about this situation, Roger Corbett?
Walk by on the other side?
Hide behind your corporate dignity?