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

 

Hong Kong domestic workers lose residency case #Vaw #migrantworkers


Top court denies domestic workers from Philippines the same status that is available to other foreigners after seven years

Hong Kong's top court has denied residency to two maids from the Philippines

Hong Kong’s top court has denied permanent residency to two maids from the Philippines. Photograph: Alamy

Hong Kong‘s top court has denied permanent residency to two domestic helpers from the Philippines in the final decision of a legal case with implications for tens of thousands of other foreign maids in the southern Chinese financial hub.

The court of final appeal issued its unanimous 5-0 ruling on Monday. The two had argued that an immigration provision barring domestic workers from permanent residency was unconstitutional.

The ruling sided with the government’s position that domestic helpers are not the same as other foreign residents.

The decision means Evangeline Banao Vallejos and Daniel Domingo are not allowed to apply to settle permanently after living for at least seven years in Hong Kong.

The case has split the city, home to nearly 300,000 maids from mainly south-east Asian countries. Some argue that barring maids from applying for residency amounts to ethnic discrimination. But other groups have raised fears that the case would result in a massive influx of maids’ family members to Hong Kong, straining the densely populated city’s social services and health and education systems. Supporters of the maids say those fears are overblown.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and permanent residency is the closest thing it has to citizenship.

Foreigners who work in other professions are eligible for permanent residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years. Those who have it can vote and work without needing a visa.

Government figures cited by a lower court in this case said an estimated 117,000 foreign maids had been in Hong Kong for that length of time as of 2010.

 

An Irresistible Force for Women’s Rights- IWHC


We did it!
Advertisement
After two weeks of fierce negotiations at the United Nations’ annual Commission on the Status of Women, on March 15 more than 130 governments committed to ending violence against women and girls, and reached strong agreements to promote gender equality and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The International Women’s Health Coalition and our amazing partners from around the world came out in force to the UN for the negotiations. Our agenda was clear: push governments to commit to concrete strategies to empower women and girls and end gender-based violence. We would not be silenced. We would not be denied our rights.
We met with instant opposition from conservative governments. Countries such as Iran, Russia, Egypt, and Syria joined with the Vatican to use culture and religion as arguments to deny women their rights. But there can be no excuse to justify violence against women. Consensus was finally reached to loud applause from supportive governments such as the U.S., South Africa, Uruguay, Argentina, Turkey, the Philippines, Norway, Denmark, and even the small island of Tonga! As the document was adopted, hundreds of women’s rights activists streamed into the negotiating room to join in the cheers.
The Commission has released 17 pages of agreed conclusions, which build on the global momentum of the past 20 years and represent an important step forward for women and girls. For the first time at the UN, governments reached consensus that survivors of rape are entitled to emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and to timely and respectful forensic exams to support prosecution. They called for an end to child marriages. They agreed women’s right to control their sexuality is essential to preventing further violence. And they recognized the role that evidence-based sexuality education can play in reducing the harmful gender stereotypes that lead to violence.
Once again, we women have shown we’re an irresistible force. But our work is far from over. Now we must be vigilant to ensure that the agreements made at the UN are put into practice in local communities worldwide. For that to happen, women’s groups must be supported to hold their own leaders to account.
Please consider supporting us generously so we can continue our work at the global level and in countries around the world.
Thank you,
Françoise Girard
President, International Women’s Health Coalition
 Follow me on Twitter@francoisegirard

 

PHillipines Supreme Court temoparily stops Reproductive Health (RH) Law #Vaw


SC stops RH for 120 days

By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 20, 2013 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) temporarily stopped the executive branch yesterday from implementing the controversial Republic Act No. 10354 or the Reproductive Health (RH) Law.

Justices voted 10-5 to issue a status quo ante order enjoining the Palace and concerned agencies from implementing the law.

The order will be in effect for 120 days. Oral arguments on the consolidated petitions will be on June 18.

Despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church, which espouses only natural family planning methods, Congress passed the RH law last Dec. 19. President Aquino signed the law two days later.

The Department of Health (DOH) approved the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the law last week. It was scheduled for implementation beginning March 31.

Catholic leaders consider the law an attack on the Church’s core values. The government and even certain Catholic groups say it will help couples choose to space childbirth, plan the size of their  families and promote women’s reproductive health.

The Philippines has a population of 94 million and has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

Those who voted for the issuance of the SC order were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion,

Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, and Bienvenido Reyes, according to SC spokesman Theodore Te.

On the other hand, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dissented together with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.

Sereno, Bernabe and Leonen are appointees of President Aquino.

Irreparable violations

A member of the high court explained to The STAR that majority of the justices saw the need to issue the order “so as to prevent irreparable violations of constitutional rights raised in the petitions, especially if in the end these are established.”

The magistrate pointed out that the order is “preliminary” and the possibility of the high court ruling in favor of the legality of the law still remains.

The SQA order was directed at Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who were all named respondents in the case.

The consolidated petitions were filed as early as January by couple James and Lovely-Ann Imbong, non-profit group Alliance for the Family

Foundation Philippines Inc. (ALFI), Serve Life Cagayan de Oro City, Task Force for Family and Life Visayas Inc., lawyer Expedito Bugarin,

Eduardo Olaguer of the Catholic Xybrspace Apostolate of the Philippines, former Sen. Francisco “Kit” Tatad and his wife Ma. Fenny

and a group of doctors represented by lawyer Howard Calleja.

The petitioners argued that the RH law “negates and frustrates the fundamental ideals and aspirations of the sovereign Filipino people

as enshrined in the Constitution.”

They cited Article II Section 12 of the Constitution, which states: “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the

development of moral character shall receive the support of government.”

Petitioners said at least 11 provisions in RA 10354, which allow couples to choose to suppress life, violate this constitutional provision.

They added that the new law violates constitutional freedom of religion and expression of those who will continue to oppose it and also creates doubtful or spurious rights called reproductive health rights.

Former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, an administration senatorial candidate, sought intervention to the case also last January and asked the high court to dismiss six petitions questioning the constitutionality of the RH Law.

Gov’t to defend law

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they will observe the SQA order issued by the SC but they are confident that the government will be able to defend the merits of the RH Law.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. also said the House of Representatives will respect the order but he remains optimistic that the matter will be resolved soon.

“This (order) is well within the high court’s power and just a temporary setback,” Belmonte said in a statement. “I am hopeful the main issues will be deliberated on so that these can be resolved as soon as possible.”

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the RH measure in the House, described the order as only a temporary delay to enable the SC to fully assess the merits and demerits of the pending petitions challenging the law.

“I firmly believe that eventually the constitutionality of the RH Law will be sustained,” Lagman said in a statement.

“The RH advocates had prevailed in the legislative and executive departments, and they will likewise triumph in the high court,” he said.

He said the law is constitutional as the right to life is not defiled, and the right to health not infringed.

Religious freedom is upheld, and parental role in the rearing of the youth is supported by the state under the law, Lagman said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) said they have not received a copy of the order.

“We are calm about it because we have been monitoring the activities of the RH Law opponents,” said DOH Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag, chair of the technical working group that drafted the IRR of the law.

Tayag said the DOH was supposed to publish the IRR anytime now had the SQA order not been issued.

“The publication will be delayed once again. But if we were able to wait for 14 years before the law was enacted, why can’t we wait again? We just hope it won’t take that long,” Tayag said.

“When we were drafting the IRR, we also checked all related laws in the Constitution. We also had three public consultations because we don’t want an IRR that will not be beneficial to women. This is supposed to be our gift to women this Women’s Month,” he said.

Under the IRR, local government units are required to promote both the artificial and natural methods of family planning. This means that banning contraceptives shall be prohibited.

The IRR considers health professionals who cannot deliver reproductive health care services or information because of their religious beliefs as “conscientious objectors,” who will not be penalized but have to refer clients to other health care facilities.

The guidelines also stated that only the modern family planning methods registered with the Food and Drug Administration are “safe, effective, non-abortifacient and legal.”

SC justices pressured?

Reproductive health advocates slammed the SC decision to stop the implementation of the RH Law.

In a phone interview, Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) executive director Romeo Dongeto said they did not expect the ruling.

“This is an affront to the intention of our lawmakers to improve maternal and reproductive health of Filipino women,” Dongeto said.

“The question is, ‘Did the SC justices succumb to the pressure of the Catholic Church?’” he said.

As one of the strong supporters of the RH Law, Dongeto said the PLCPD believes all issues raised against the measure including medical, scientific and moral questions, have been addressed.

Clara Rita Padila, executive director of EnGenderRights, also denounced the SC ruling.

“It’s unfortunate that the SC issued a 120-day status quo ante order against the RH Law. We badly need the law to reduce unintended pregnancies and maternal mortalities in the country,” Padilla said.

“In our interviews with poor women in Manila last November, we found 65 percent of them were candidates for ligation, meaning, they have way surpassed their desired number of children,” she said.

Padilla said 11 Filipino mothers die from pregnancy and childbirth complications every day.

TRO welcomed

On the other hand, Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who opposed the RH measure, yesterday welcomed the SC order, saying the Supreme Court knows what’s best for the country.

Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay added that the SC might have found some merit in the petitions against the RH Law.

“The high court must have thought that there are indeed provisions in the law that are illegal or in conflict with existing laws and the Constitution. I strongly suggest that its authors make the necessary amendments or repeal it outright,” Magsaysay said in a telephone interview.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said that the issuance of an SQA order was an indication that the magistrates were listening to the objections of the Catholic Church.

He, however, said the people should not be complacent since their struggle is not yet over and the RH Law can still be implemented.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life executive secretary Fr. Melvin Castro said that the SC has heard their prayers and they were pleased to know this even if it was just a temporary victory.

He also said this serves as a challenge to the voters to elect candidates who give importance to life and family.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial candidate Nancy Binay, for her part, said the high tribunal’s decision will give advocates and opponents of the RH Law the opportunity to air their positions.– With Sheila Crisostomo, Jose Rodel Clapano, Delon Porcalla, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero, Helen Flores, Christina Mendez, AP

 



 

Commemorate World Day Against the Death Penalty #mustshare


 

The Advocates Post
By Rosalyn Park | 10:20 am

Our graphic design volunteer, Cuong Nguyen, and I pondered the scribbles on our notepads, stumped. We were charged with developing this year’s poster forWorld Day Against the Death Penalty. World Day on October 10 marks the date when activists around the world rally to oppose the death penalty and commemorate the day with educational events, demonstrations, and other initiatives to voice their opposition to this human rights violation.

We were creating this poster at the request of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (www.worldcoalition.org), an international coalition that opposes the death penalty. The World Coalition spearheads World Day, along with many other campaigns, in its efforts to end the death penalty around the world. This October 10, 2012 is particularly special, because it marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the World Coalition.

The poster would be a pivotal piece in the World Day campaign as the rallying symbol for hundreds of death penalty activists around the world. Our main challenge was that the World Coalition’s Steering Committee specifically requested a positivemessage in the poster. But how to convey a positive image about the execution of people and the end of human life? There’s nothing innately positive about the death penalty– images typically used to portray capital punishment are morbid: nooses, syringes, knives, stones, and execution chambers. Not exactly the ingredients for positive messaging.

Fortunately, the World Coalition suggested we focus on progress made over the past ten years—and there’s much to celebrate in this regard. The World Coalition has grown from a fledgling initiative to an independent organization composed of almost 140 members from around the world. Member organizations hail from numerous countries, such as Morocco, France, Iran, Lebanon, Taiwan, Japan, Puerto Rico, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, UK, Nigeria, and of course, the United States. As The Advocates’ representative on the World Coalition’s Steering Committee I have been privileged to meet and work with an inspiring group of individuals from all over the world.

The work of the World Coalition and other abolitionists has had a big impact. Today, 141 countries are abolitionist in law or in practice (97 countries have passed laws that have eliminate the death penalty, and 36 countries have not legally abolished the death penalty but have not used it in years). A glance at some of the countries that have abolished the death penalty in the past ten years shows the trend is global and reaches all corners of the world: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Burundi, Cook Islands, Gabon, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, the Philippines, Rwanda, Samoa, Senegal, Togo, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Some countries that have not abolished the Death Penalty have signified their strong disinterest in continuing the practice: Sierra Leone and Nigeria have declared a moratorium on executions and Tajikistan has had a moratorium on both death sentences and executions since 2004. Finally, eight countries have restricted the scope of their death penalty and abolished its use for ordinary crimes.

Even in the United States, where the use of the death penalty is one of the gravest human rights violations, we’ve seen a demonstrable shift by states toward rejection of the death penalty. In April 2012, Connecticut became the 17th State to abolish the death penalty, closely following Illinois in 2011, New Mexico in 2009, and New Jersey in 2007. California will be putting the vote to the people when the death penalty is up for referendum this November—a recognition that public support is waning.

Indeed, looking at these facts and figures, the progress is astonishing. It is clear: the global trend is countries moving away from using the death penalty.

Thinking about the death penalty in light of these developments was inspiring for Cuong and me as we sought to portray this message. W hile we still face dire problems with capital punishment here in the United States and elsewhere, the world overall is shifting toward abolition. It’s a positive sign and one that we can truly celebrate.

Given this insight, we decided on the simple image of the world atop a broken noose. We finished it with an inspiring message to capture our past progress and the brighter future we all face:  Abolish the death penalty. It’s a better world without it.

For more information about the death penalty, please see The Advocates’ Death Penalty Toolkit at http://discoverhumanrights.org/Death_Penalty.html.

This post was written by Rosalyn Park and originally published on The Advocates Post. Follow The Advocates Post on Twitter: @The_Advocates.

 

Bt Brinjal poses a risk to health, environment: Greenpeace report


NEW DELHI, April 30, 2012

‘Spread of the Bt gene could make the brinjal a problematic weed

An independent enquiry has revealed that the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified, or GMBt brinjal poses risks to the environment and possibly to human health. The occurrence of wild, weedy and also cultivated relatives presents a likelihood that the GE Bt gene will spread to these relatives but, so far, this has largely been overlooked in the risk assessments for GE Bt brinjal, it says.

Genetically engineered Bt brinjal and the implications for plant biodiversity – revisitedan independent study commissioned by Greenpeace International, finds that brinjal relatives do occur in the regions where cultivation of GE Bt brinjal is proposed, and that GE Bt brinjal may mate with these relatives to spread the GE Bt gene. Spread of the GE Bt gene would have considerable ecological implications, as well as implications for future crop contamination and farmers’ rights.

Importantly, the spread of the GE Bt gene could result in the brinjal becoming an aggressive and problematic weed, the Greenpeace report suggests, while impressing upon the governments the need to employ the precautionary principle and not permit any authorisation of the outdoor cultivation of GEBt brinjal, including field trials

The cultivation of GE Bt brinjal is proposed in some countries across Asia, including India, where there is currently a moratorium on commercialisation, and the Philippines, where field trials are going on. “There are many concerns with GE brinjal, which has been engineered to be resistant to certain insect pests using Bt genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. These concerns include food safety and possible effects on organisms other than the pest insect (non-target organisms), such as beneficial insects and butterflies.”

One of the least known aspects of the GE Bt brinjal is its ability to cross with wild relatives or cultivated varieties. This is because there are no recent reviews in the scientific literature concerning species related to brinjal, and where they grow across Asia. This information is vital when addressing concerns regarding cultivation of GE Bt brinjal, because insect-resistance gives a selective advantage to the plant, increasing its ability to survive and reproduce. If the GE Bt brinjal cross-pollinates wild, weedy or cultivated relatives, the result is a hybrid offspring, which may grow more aggressively and thus become a problem weed, the report says.

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