Since the onset of the health emergency imposed by the novel coronavirus, various organisations and individuals have been urging the Australian Government to include Temporary Visa Holders in its COVID-19 relief measures. In their appeals, many argued that ‘non-inclusion of Temporary Visa Holders will put them at an increased risk of exploitation’. Two events affecting the Nepali community in Australia has proven the concerns true.
Exploitation of labour:
On Saturday, 30th May, 2020, an MNTV Online report alleged Deependra Dhamala had been beaten up by his contractor, another Nepali national whose name we shall refrain from using (because we are speaking of a societal problem, not an individual). While the perpetrator, amidst a press-release has clarified his role in the matter, claiming Mr. Dhamala rai, and that his actions were retaliatory – the incident speaks volumes on exploitation of the situation temporary visa holders are in.
Mr. Dhamala, his wife (who is an international student), and their child were living in Melbourne. Like many others, Mr. Dhamala’s family too underwent a financial crunch owing to the COVID-19 crisis. With no relief in sight, he therefore made the painful decision of moving to an entirely new city to make some money. At the place, what was promised, and what was delivered, differed. According to Mr. Dhamala, he was told he had to pluck grapes, and would make a decent amount of money. However, when he reached there, he was made to pluck oranges – AUD 25 for 600 oranges he plucked. He was able to make AUD 50 in a day (after plucking 1200 oranges) – of the amount, he had to pay AUD 10 for transport, AUD 3 for bag-rental, and AUD 100 (per week) towards rent.
He did the math, and the employment opportunity did not make sense. He therefore decided to quit. That was when the scuffle ensued. Mr. Dhamala has registered a case at the Mildura Police Station, and the matter will be taken to court.
However, the incident begs us to visit the situation of others toiling in that, or other farms. Thousands of temporary visa holders are employed in several farms, the crisis pushing more of them to seek such jobs, as was the case with Dipendra.
At this juncture, it is important to visit a 2019 article titled ‘Migrants trapped in ‘slave-like’ conditions at Aussie farms’ by Georgia Clark for Government News. Clark in the report cites a line by NUW National President Caterina Cinanni which addresses the problem:
“For a lot of (workers) they’re trapped in really exploitative labour hire contractor arrangements … paid in cash, trapped in the black economy and paid in piecework or below minimum wage. We’ve seen wages at $8 or $12 an hour, far below the minimum wage”.
Temporary visa holders are always at a risk of being exploited – take for example the July, 2019 case of a Nepali chef against a premium Melbourne restaurant.
However, the question that needs to be begged here is, ‘has their vulnerability increased due to their exclusion from federal COVID-19 relief measures?’
The Hundi Scam:
In another report, yet again made public by MNTV Australia, the news outlet exposed another Hundi scam. In its report, MNTV Australia said international students were being targeted. The victims have reported the matter to the police, and authorities are investigating into the matter – however, Nepalese Voice’s concern is yet again with the ‘increased vulnerability’ the international students are placed in.
As most semesters draw to an end, international students are burdened with the task of paying their university/institution fees. With a national lockdown in place in Nepal, arranging for funds is virtually impossible – hence students have to resort to Hundi. One victim’s family, who had used the Hundi channel to transfer money to Australia allegedly paid the equivalent sum in Nepal – however the perpetrator failed to pay the money in Australia. The student is unable to pay the fees, and is faced with extreme mental pressure.
According to the MNTV report, the perpetrator has a known history of scamming others – and has been capitalising on the crisis. His victims are from several cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart amongst others.
Furthermore, according to several victims, the perpetrator also threatens the victims when they ask for their money – claiming he will tell authorities that students are working illegally (in cash), which could get them deported. Many students, fearing he will act upon the threats, refuse to go to authorities.
However, as per information received, a few victims have reported the matter to authorities, and an investigation is underway.
Meanwhile, the purpose of this article is to re-visit the question – ‘are temporary visa holders at an increased risk owing to their exclusion from government relief measures?’
Note: While temporary visa holders have been denied help from the federal government, several state governments have introduced relief measures for them – therefore, it is important to note that all hope is not lost entirely.