KASAMA Vol. 22 No. 2 / April-May-June 2008 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Cries From The Workplace:
Stories of migrant women workers in Sydney

Excerpts from 20 WOMEN, 20 STORIES

Introduction: Why we wrote this booklet

Graphic by Victor Zhao Qing Ding

We are Asian women workers. We are skilled and dedicated. We work very hard but we are never treated as we deserve. Our hard working efforts are not recognised. We are bullied and harassed. Often we are not paid even the minimum wage, or our other entitlements.

And because we are migrants and can’t speak English very well, we could not tell anybody what is going on. We are scared of the boss. We fear we will lose our jobs so we always put up with whatever happens to us, and feel uncomfortable to speak out or to complain.

We didn’t believe exploitation could happen in Australia. We never expected this to be part of our “new life” here until we experienced it ourselves. We feel like third class citizens. For a long time we have felt like we are not important and we are ignored.

This is why we are speaking out! Through this booklet, our stories will be told and heard by people.

We want our stories to be part of the discussions and debates on a new industrial relations system in Australia. We do not want to be forgotten.

We want bosses to listen to our stories and learn about the law. We want bosses to treat workers with respect, not as people of less value.

We want other workers to listen to our stories and speak out. We want to work together with others to learn about the law and protect out rights.

We want the general public to hear our stories and join us in our calls for change.

There is a Vietnamese saying “If a baby cries the mother will feed it”. So we are calling out to the Government to help us.

We want the Government to listen to our stories and change the WorkChoices law. WorkChoices has been bad for migrant women workers. But this is about more than just “getting rid of WorkChoices”. The Government says they will build a new industrial relations system. We want to make sure the new industrial relations system is truly able to protect migrant women workers like us. We want the Government to train bosses about the law and punish the bad bosses and pressure them to do the right thing.

It is time for things to change. We don’t want to be ignored any more. We are speaking out!

Asian Women at Work Action Group
April 2008

Graphic by Victor Zhao Qing Ding

‘Name’: Lan
Age: 50’s
Family Status: Married
Ethnic Background: Vietnamese
Industry: Clothing


From camp to factory

Lan and her family left Vietnam in 1980 by boat. When her boat crossed the Thai border it was attacked by Thai pirates. She and other people lost everything including money and jewellery they brought to help them start a new life.

She and her family then stayed in a refugee camp in the Philippines for 20 years. With support from the community and other organisations, Lan and her family arrived to Australia in 2000.

She got a job in a factory and worked very hard. After five years of working she felt very tired and became numb from her right hand to her shoulder. She decided to take sick leave for treatment. She told her boss and hoped that he would understand her situation. After all, she worked at the factory for all those years, and she had always been a good worker. She and others were working hard to bring profit to the boss’s company. Unfortunately for her, it was at that time WorkChoices was introduced. Her boss asked her to leave the job immediately without paying her anything she was entitled to.

‘Name’: Louise
Age: 20’s
Family Status: Recently married
Ethnic Background: Filipino
Industry: Food packaging

Graphic by Victor Zhao Qing Ding STORY 14: NO PENALTY RATES

I don’t know my rights, but it seems unfair

If you ask me how I feel about my workplace, I will tell you that I feel deprived (of my rights), like I have no choice (I cannot find other work) but happy because I have developed friendships with my fellow workers.

Since April last year I’ve been employed as a process worker in one of Australia’s leading suppliers of pre–packaged food that are commonly found in convenience stores, service stations, schools and universities, hospitals, airlines and snack bars.

Every Saturday, I wake up very early to go to work. I live in Blacktown and it takes me over an hour to get to my workplace.

In my workplace, the workers are all Asians — Filipinos, Chinese, Indonesians and Vietnamese. I get along very well with them. My workplace is okay and the machines we use are safe.

My manager is very work–focused and approachable though sometimes inconsiderate.

As far as I am concerned, I am receiving the minimum wage. However penalty rates for weekend work are not applicable to us.

Sure, I get paid for any overtime work but I do not think that I am really getting wages and conditions in accordance with the law. I know this because when I work on Saturdays I am paid the normal, ordinary day rate and Sunday is 150% of the ordinary rate. To my knowledge, Saturday work should be paid 150% and Sunday should be 200%.

I do not have any idea if I am covered by an award, or under an individual contract.

I believe that I and the other workers are being treated unfairly at work. We usually work 7–8 hours a day, and within those working hours we don’t have a lunch break though we have morning tea for 10 minutes. I do not think it is enough to have just a one break for the whole day. I consider this to be unfair treatment.

While I am quite happy to work, I also worry. I worry about the possibility of illness in the long run like having arthritis because of the cold; varicose veins because we are standing up the whole day; and ulcers for not eating.

I am not sure if there have been changes in my workplace since the WorkChoices laws started. I only started working in April last year but what I know is that our employer can change our wages anytime he/she wants. There was a time when our Saturdays were paid 125% penalty rate but from July, we were only paid the normal ordinary day rate.

I hope that in the future, we can get the right penalty rate for weekend work as well as have proper break times.

I think that if the government and Asian Women at Work educate us about our rights at work, we will be well informed about our rights and will not be afraid to fight for it.

What we want…

Strong legal protections for workers

  1. Broad minimum legal protections in the workplace to ensure migrant workers wages and conditions are secure.
  2. A “Workplace Standard” outlining acceptable and unacceptable workplace culture in Australia, including practical things like expectations of being able to go to the toilet when needed, provision of toilet paper and provision of microwave in lunch room; through to the absence of bullying and racial discrimination, and having cultural and religious acceptance.
  3. Unfair dismissal laws to ensure workers can raise important workplace issues without fear of consequences.
  4. Stronger laws addressing bullying in the workplace and providing better systems to assist those who are bullied.
  5. Enforcement of the Law – an active inspectorate

  6. Pro–active industrial relations inspectors going out to inspect workplaces and fine employers for breaches, not just waiting for complaints.
  7. Removal of restrictions on Unions right of access and inspection, as part of a regular monitoring presence in workplaces.
  8. Naming and shaming of bad companies not keeping the law.
  9. Education for employers and workers

  10. Compulsory education and testing for employers to be sure they know the industrial relations laws.
  11. Education for workers about rights, standards, responsibilities, Occupational Health and Safety and bullying.
  12. Education for employers and migrant workers about the proposed “Workplace Standard” on acceptable workplace culture, and promotion of this standard.
  13. More promotion of information on industrial relations processes and where to go for help including targeted TV advertisements.
  14. More translations of information with a clear distribution system which includes places where migrant people go like libraries and Asian supermarkets.
  15. Funding for specialist centres as resource places for migrants to get information and assistance on issues in their workplaces and their rights and responsibilities.
  16. More access to English classes in or near the workplace.

Asian Women at Work Inc. is a network of Asian migrant women workers that empowers, resources and assists women to stand up, speak out and take collective action to advocate for their rights and develop strategies that improve women’s lives, end exploitation in the workplace and home, obtain secure employment and enable them to understand and contribute to Australian society.
Asian Women at Work has a current membership of over 1300 migrant women workers in low paid employment.

Contact details:

Asian women at Work Inc., 114 Restwell St, Bankstown NSW 1855
Mail address: PO Box 253, Bankstown NSW 1885 Australia
Ph: 02 9793 9062 — Fax: 02 9793 9106