Australia- Visa rorts leave foreign workers in debt bondage #Migrantrights


EXCLUSIVE

-Victim: Bhawna Verma with her partner Harvinder Mehta and their son Kiyan Mahta. Photo: David Thorpe

Hundreds of foreign workers and students are being forced into debt bondage after paying up to $40,000 for a skilled worker visa, with some signing contracts stating they’ll be sacked if they engage in “trade union activities”.

A Fairfax Media investigation can reveal the most extensive rorting of the 457 and 187 visa schemes ever to be exposed, with up to 200 cases across Australia including:

It was very upsetting. I thought how will my baby and I survive?

29 Filipino workers who have complained to their embassy after some had to direct part of their salary to repay loans organised by recruitment and migration agents that have interest rates of up to 50 per cent.

foreign workers promised long-term work or permanent residency if they paid between $5000 and $40,000 to middlemen across the nation only to be given temporary work or, in a small number of cases, little or no pay.

80 Indian workers duped into paying $4000 for a cleaning course in Melbourne worth only $1300 after being misled that it would enable them to get a work visa.

Some of those Indian workers were directed by their recruitment agent to work as unskilled labourers in abattoirs in an arrangement one of the abattoir owners, JBS Australia, said involved the agent misleading it and the workers.

The rorting of the visas schemes and exploitation of foreign workers has been labelled “a national shame” by ACTU secretary Dave Oliver and involved numerous companies operating across Australia and often under the noses of authorities.

“There needs to be further investigation to see what is happening with this system where workers are becoming bonded labour,” Mr Oliver said. “This is a racket involving migration agents, middlemen, exploitation of workers and loan sharks.”

One of the most blatant examples involves Clinica Internationale, a company owned by Melbourne man Radovan Laski, which has been able to continue operating, despite numerous complaints to the Immigration Department.

Mr Laski convinced up to 100 Indians to hand over up to $40,000 after promising to help them get a 187 visa, which allows a skilled worker to get permanent residency if they are sponsored by a regional employer.

But Mr Laski failed to find many of the workers the promised jobs and sponsorship, instead sending some of them to work as unskilled labourers in abattoirs. One of Mr Laski’s victims, temporary residential visa holder Bhawna Verma, 27, from India, was pregnant and desperate to stay in Australia when Mr Laski promised in writing in 2012 to find her employment and sponsorship if she paid an initial $5000 fee. After paying the money, Ms Verma was sent to work for an associate of Mr Laski in Ocean Grove, Victoria, where for two months she received no wage and did only odd jobs.

“It was very upsetting. I thought how will my baby and I survive?” Ms Verma said.

Fairfax Media has uncovered a separate network of companies based in Geelong, the Gold Coast and the Philippines that are targeting Filipino workers seeking 457 temporary skilled worker visas.

Twenty-nine workers recently complained to the Philippines embassy, detailing the ”excessive” fees they had to pay agents and demanding an investigation.

Documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that some of the Filipinos signed contracts that stated they could be fired for ”trade union activities” or falling sick.

The documents show Filipino workers paying up to $14,000 to agencies and some paying interest rates of more than 45 per cent.

Other documents show Filipino workers directing as much as a third of their $50,000 annual income to pay off high-interest loans.

While the schemes involving the Indian and Filipino workers are run by separate companies, they both involve excessive fees and workers often scared to speak out for fear of being deported.

Mr Laski – named in federal Parliament as conman – warned a worker in an email that “I will be down on you like a ton of bricks” if they complained to authorities.

Emails show that Mr Laski and his business associate, George Stamatakos, were charging dozens of Indian workers $3950 to do a $1300 cleaning course at Melbourne’s Complex Training Centre.

When Mr Stamatakos was asked why they charged the Indian workers three times the fee charged by the training centre, he said: “If I could charge $6000, I would do it.”

He said he charged “between 60 to 70″ Indian workers the $3950 fee but referred questions to Mr Laski, who did not respond to calls.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor told Fairfax Media the Gillard government would introduce sweeping reforms, enabling 300 Fair Work inspectors to investigate visa rorts.

”The government has had serious concerns about rorts of the 457 system for some time and the Department’s limited powers to monitor and enforce compliance of the scheme,” Mr O’Connor said.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/visa-rorts-leave-foreign-workers-in-debt-bondage-20130605-2nqnm.html#ixzz2VLPH6ZDd

 

Socioeconomic Inequality in Disability – A Multi Country Study


 

A Multicountry Study Using the World Health Survey.
disability-discrimination1

 

Ahmad R. Hosseinpoor, Alana Officer, Emese Verdes, Nenad Kostanjsek, and Somnath Chatterji are with the World Health Organization, Geneva,Switzerland. Jennifer A. Stewart Williams is with the University of NewcastleNewcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Jeny Gautam is with Dianella Community Health, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Aleksandra Posarac is with the World Bank, Washington, DC.

 

“……We compared national prevalence and wealth-related inequality in disability across a large number of countries from all income groups.

Methods. Data on 218737 respondents participating in the World Health Survey 2002–2004 were analyzed.
A composite disability score (0–100) identified respondents who experienced significant disability in physical, mental, and social functioning irrespective of their underlying health condition. Disabled persons had disability composite scores above 40. Wealth was evaluated using an index of economic status in households based on ownership of selected assets. Socioeconomic inequalities were measured using the slope index of inequality and the relative index of inequality.

Results.
Median age-standardized disability prevalence was higher in the low- and lower middle-income countries. In all the study countries, disability was more prevalent in the poorest than in the richest wealth quintiles. Pro-rich inequality was statistically significant in 43 of 49 countries, with disability prevalence higher among populations with lower wealth. Median relative inequality was higher in the high- and upper middle-income countries.

Conclusions.
Integrating equity components into the monitoring of disability trends would help ensure that interventions reach and benefit populations with greatest need. …”

DOWNLOAD FULL STUDY HERE

(Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print May 16, 2013: e1–e9. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.301115)

Israel and the curious case of Prisoner X


By Yolande Knell BBC News, Jerusalem

Photographs and details of Ben Zygier made the front pages of Australia's newspapers on 14/2/13 Details about Prisoner X have been revealed in the Australian media

Many questions remain unanswered in the mysterious case of Israel‘s so-called Prisoner X, an Australian-Israeli man imprisoned under a false identity who died in custody – it is not known what he was accused of or exactly how he died in a high security jail two years ago.

A government gag order that remains partially in place could leave key facts shrouded in secrecy for some time.

However, the details that have come out over the past few days – and the way that they have emerged – have sparked an open, vigorous debate in the Israeli media about civil rights and issues of censorship.

In 2010, brief articles were published on the online news website, YNet, saying that an Israeli was detained in isolation at Ayalon Prison, near Tel Aviv, and later that he had committed suicide. Both stories were later removed.

A blanket ban meant that no more was reported until Tuesday, when Australia’s ABC News identified the dead man as Ben Zygier, 34, originally from Melbourne.

It said that he had moved to Israel in 2000, and quoted sources suggesting he was imprisoned for misconduct after spying for the intelligence agency Mossad.

I can imagine a scenario where winning two years of secrecy gave the Mossad time to organise alternative arrangements for whatever they thought was threatened by this guy’s transgression”

Martin Sherman Israel’s Institute of Strategic Studies

While the news spread quickly via social networks, the Israeli media stayed virtually silent.

The left-leaning newspaper Haaretz reported on the ABC programme on its website and then took the page down. It also reported that the prime minister’s office had asked media editors to withhold information that was “very embarrassing to a certain government agency”.

It was only after three Israeli MPs used their parliamentary immunity to raise the issue in the Knesset that the censor was forced to ease restrictions and permit coverage of the ABC findings.

Old-fashioned thinking?

On Wednesday, in a column titled Cloak and Dagger democracy, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn sharply criticised the head of Mossad for his handling of the affair, suggesting he was “still living in the previous century” beyond the reach of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Beyond the highly fortified walls of his office there is an entire world without restrictions and constraints, in which people are free to exchange information, opinions and even photographs,” he went on.

He called on censors, judges and security officials to accept “the concept of a free media operating in a democratic state”.

This outburst prompted the chief editor of the conservative Israel Hayom, Amos Regev, to accuse Haaretz of “hypocrisy, cynicism and arrogance”.

“The Mossad is not the enemy. The Mossad protects us, the citizens of Israel,” he said.

Social media encourages us to share content, to push it to our friends and contacts – there’s no gag order that can stop that”

Yuval Dror Digital media expert

“Does the public’s ‘right to know’ require us to set a spotlight on each action of an agent, spy or fighter, who endangers their lives so we can live in peace? Who appointed us, the journalists, as experts about everything?”

While Israel prides itself on its democratic values like free speech, there is military censorship.

To receive an official press card, journalists must sign an agreement pledging not to publish any security information that could help Israel’s enemies or harm the state. Most know how to tread carefully.

With the facts in this case still murky, human rights groups have also been cautious when raising their concerns about the treatment of Prisoner X.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote to the Deputy Attorney General suggesting it should be possible to safeguard state security while being transparent about any failures.

“There is considerable public interest in information on the investigation into the detainee’s death, and in answers to the following questions: Was it really suicide? Was there negligence in the supervision of the detainee? Has any official body taken responsibility? What steps have been taken to prevent the recurrence of similar events in the future?” it said.

Digital age

Israeli security experts say that the action taken against Prisoner X was highly unusual. “As far as I know, in recent decades it’s unique,” says Martin Sherman, who heads the Israeli Institute of Strategic Studies.

Timeline of Prisoner X scandal

  • Dec 10: Man found hanged in cell at Ayalon prison
  • Story reporting brief details of the death appears on Israeli news website Ynet, but is then taken down
  • Rumours continue to circulate that Prisoner X, as he became known, was a Mossad agent
  • 12 Feb 13: Australia’s ABC News names Prisoner X as Ben Zygier, 34
  • Mr Zygier was reportedly born in Melbourne to a prominent Jewish family and moved to Israel in 2000
  • 13 Feb 13: Israeli justice ministry confirms the existence of Prisoner X
  • 14 Feb 13: Australia admits it was told of Zygier’s detention in Feb 2010

“I would have thought there was almost irrefutable proof of him having done something otherwise they wouldn’t have risked such an extraordinary measure.”

Speculation is rife that Mr Zygier, also known as Ben Alon, was suspected of being a double agent or was being threatened to hand over sensitive information.

Australian sources suggest that their intelligence service had questioned him about trips that he made to Iran, Lebanon and Syria, and Mossad’s operation methods relating to foreign passports.

Mr Sherman disagrees that the media blackout was a failure.

“I can imagine a scenario where winning two years of secrecy gave the Mossad time to organise alternative arrangements for whatever they thought was threatened by this guy’s transgression,” he says.

But media analysts argue that recent events showed that in the digital age ultimately gag orders do not work.

“They are simply ludicrous. I think that the government that asked the courts to issue one now understands that,” says Yuval Dror, an expert on digital media at the College of Management.

“Social media encourages us to share content, to push it to our friends and contacts. There’s no gag order that can stop that,” he adds.

Foreign sources

For Israelis, there was a familiar pattern to the way in which information was revealed this week via the foreign media. Here, journalists often leak stories forbidden for publication to their overseas counterparts and then quote their reports.

Ayalon prison watchtower Prisoner X was reportedly held at Ayalon prison in Ramle, Israel

Last month, Israeli outlets circumvented the censor’s ban by running foreign media coverage of an Israeli air raid on a military complex in Syria.

So far, the only official Israeli account about Prisoner X comes from a district court.

It confirms that an Israeli with an unspecified dual citizenship was imprisoned under a false name “out of security considerations”, that his family was informed and he was given legal representation.

After the man was found dead in his cell in December 2010, a judge ruled it was suicide. The state has now been asked to check for possible negligence.

Following an interesting parliamentary session in Canberra, the Australian media continues to serve as a main source for Israeli news leads.

The Australian foreign ministry has now admitted it knew of Mr Zygier’s detention as early as February 2010.

And other foreign reports are surfacing. The Kuwaiti newspaper, al-Jarida, implicates Mr Zygier in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai in January 2010. Australia complained to Israel at the time after faked Australian passports were used.

 

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