Mr McKenna replied that he was not aware until two months ago that many workers had paid large sums to their Chinese recruiters to get jobs. He said he and his company contacted the Immigration Minister on several occasions to ask for help on behalf of the workers, but “when a representative group of workers threatened me, I told them I was not would not support them because that is not the way it is in Australia. ”.
Australian Meat Industry Employees Union Queensland branch secretary Matt Journeaux said there was very real fear among foreign workers that their visas would be canceled. “These people then have to find a sponsor within 28 days,” he said.
On the tape, Mr. McKenna can be heard telling workers that the Chinese worker involved in the incident, Benson Wang, had been fired and would be charged by police. Mr. Wang was taken to hospital with a black eye and possible concussion.
The police did not charge Mr. Wang, who said he was first beaten by his supervisor after an argument over a tool he was using. Mr. Wang returned to China shortly after the incident.
“Benson assaulted a supervisor. The supervisor defended himself like everyone else is entitled to it and Benson comes out (sic) second best. The police thought… they would charge Benson, ”McKenna said on the tape.
“He will be charged with assault. Non-negotiable. He will be fired. Non-negotiable … he will never work here again. He will, I believe, be returned from Australia. Australia doesn’t want people like Benson.
Mr. McKenna also attacked Chinese workers’ comments in mainstream and social media about their working conditions.
“To say that people don’t have a toilet break. To say … a worker had cuts, had nine stitches, had to come straight back to work? Bullshit. Say we are racist? Bullshit. Say we don’t support you? Bullshit, ”he said, saying.
“During the coronavirus, we didn’t have to pay just one person. Everyone, everyone got paid … schools, we talk to schools to bring your kids to school, because they didn’t want it. Who did that ? My wife. She received them in schools. We donate to them.
Chinese workers in Midfield said Age and the Herald on condition of anonymity because they fear for their jobs that the company has helped them to go to school, find accommodation and settle in Warrnambool. But they also said they experienced verbal abuse from supervisors, increased workload and occasional difficulty dealing with injuries on the job.
Mr McKenna said the Midfield labor agreement has still not been approved by the federal government, even though it was submitted two years ago. Without it, the company cannot sponsor anyone for permanent residence.
When asked if he had recently heard from the government about the labor agreement, Mr McKenna replied: “None, as I feel there are bigger issues than Midfield.”
Trade tensions with China mean it has canceled valuable export licenses from several Australian red meat processors and imposed crippling tariffs on other agricultural exports. Australia also raised questions about China’s human rights record in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Some Australian slaughterhouses, including Midfield, meanwhile face intense scrutiny from the Australian Border Force over their foreign skilled worker arrangements and overseas assessment processes. To be eligible for a skilled migrant visa to work in an Australian slaughterhouse, workers from countries like China must have three years of experience and pass an English language assessment.
Midfield and dozens of other slaughterhouses in at least four states have relied on a labor recruiting and hiring union led by Chinese businessman Zu Neng Shi, or Scott Shi, to escape tax, to provide more than 1,100 workers per year between 2008 and 2017.
Mr McKenna said labor hire companies do 90 percent of the assessments of foreign workers supplied to Midfield.
“They said they knew the market and would do the screening accordingly… I have to say we had no idea who we were dealing with, so we used the ones we thought were the experts because they were doing it. for many others, ”he said.
Australian meat processors say they are increasingly forced to bring in foreign workers as few locals apply for jobs at a slaughterhouse. There are 36 separate collective agreements in force in Australia that allow meat processors to employ foreign workers.
“Meat processing is very repetitive and some can say boring and there are many alternatives in our area as official unemployment is around 2%,” McKenna said.
But dependence on foreign workers has led unions and workers to demand the exploitation of a vulnerable group of people who rarely speak out due to their precarious visa status and the close surveillance of foreign networks. recruitment of workers returning to their country of origin.
The Australian Taxation Office alleges in Federal Court documents that 29 separate companies overseen by Mr. Shi owe up to $ 163 million in unpaid taxes. Search warrants executed on properties associated with Mr. Shi allege that he is suspected of money laundering, tax evasion, secret commissions and migration fraud. Mr. Shi has not yet been charged with any offense.
Mr. Shi obtained workers from another man, Zhu Chao Ping, who is called David Zhu or Steve Chu in Australia. Midfield received workers from Mr. Zhu’s network in Fujian Province.
In addition to providing workers for Australian meat processors, Zhu occasionally held secret meetings in Beijing between Australian slaughterhouse owners and China’s top customs official, Wang Gang.
SMS seen by Age and the Herald show Midfield owner Mr McKenna was taken by Mr Zhu to see Dr Wang in Beijing two or three years ago. Mr. McKenna’s company was unable to obtain an export license from China.
Mr Zhu also took the managing director of meat processor NSW Southern Meats to see Dr Wang in 2019 in defiance of advice from the Australian government to discuss a suspended export license.
The number of foreign workers at the base of Australia’s agricultural industry is expected to increase further with the recent Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement establishing a special agricultural visa granted to up to 10,000 people per year per the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
The creation of this agricultural work visa will end the requirement for UK backpackers to spend 88 days working on Australian farms.
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