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Catholic international students exploited by employers full of praise for Australian-first labour hire laws

Fr Nacho and Sergio Duran

Human rights win: Fr Ignacio Gutierrez with Sergio Duran, an international student who was exploited by at least two employers over the past four years. Photo: Emilie Ng

LATIN American international students who received food donations from their Catholic community to survive being ruthlessly underpaid by employers have welcomed new mandatory labour hire licencing laws aimed at protecting vulnerable workers.

Colombian native Sergio Duran was exploited by at least two cleaning companies since moving to Australia in 2014 for study.

He told The Catholic Leader last year that his first employer required him to attend two weeks of training without pay before offering him two hours of work per day.

He was sacked four months later with only two days’ notice.

The 31-year-old said another employer underpaid him and several other employees by at least half their wages but they never received pay slips to prove the exploitation.

A member of the Latin American Catholic Community, Mr Duran relied on food donations from his community members and chaplain Scalabrinian Father Ignacio Gutierrez to survive when he was between jobs.

Now he is hopeful other students won’t be forced to live off donations following the introduction of Australian-first labour hire licencing laws, which will regulate the industry to combat exploitation.

The laws, which came into effect on April 16 in Queensland, will offer workers increased protection in a now regulated industry where employers would be held accountable for wrong-doings, including exploiting workers like Mr Duran.

Labour hire operators will be required to obtain mandatory licencing, requiring companies to undergo a fit and proper person test, and adhere to regular reporting.

Businesses providing labour hire services that operate without a licence or don’t comply with any of the regulations could face imprisonment, fines or have their licence cancelled.

Mr Duran, who celebrated the new legislation with his Catholic community at an event run by the Queensland Community Alliance on April 15, said he wanted all exploitation to stop.

“We need to speak up,” Mr Duran said at the event. “We need to tell the inspectors (our stories) and we have to make sure we have a solution.

“You may think this situation only happens once (but), for me and for my community, this is happening every day. This is our human dignity.”

Celebrating labour hire laws

Members of the Latin American Catholic Community and the Queensland Community Alliance celebrated a victorious win for their students who have previously been exploited by Australian employers. Photo: QCA/Michael Oliver

In a video address, Queensland Industry Relations Minister Grace Grace congratulated the QCA for raising the alarm on labour hire in Queensland.

“I am proud to be the IR Minister in the Palaszczuk Government which introduced the Labour Hire Licensing Scheme,” Ms Grace said.

“This scheme will be backed by a compliance unit (with) dedicated inspectors who will have a focus on vulnerable industries including farm work and contract cleaning.

“We look forward to working with all of you in the churches, mosques, community organisations and unions in your alliance to make sure the scheme is implemented effectively.”

During a call to prayer at the QCA event, Fr Gutierrez said God was “the source of this movement because we are promoting dignity and rights to every single human person”.

“We ask you, Lord, to continue looking after us, especially those who are in the most needy situation, those victims of exploitation, those victims of discrimination, those brothers and sisters who’ve experienced (rejection) because they think different, because their culture, their language, their conviction are different from that of the majority,” Fr Gutierrez prayed.

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