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Unskilled, non-English speaking foreign workers “a concern”

Thursday, 7 Sep 2006 ( #276 ) - SYDNEY, New South Wales, Australia
Local News Story
By Daphne Haneman
Chinese and Italian forklift drivers and electricians at ABC Tissue Products Pty Ltd’s paper mill in western Sydney were allegedly working without appropriate licences, could not speak English and could not perform basic tasks.

An ABC Tissues spokesperson said the site was "non-operational for a couple of weeks while WorkCover did some things". A WorkCover NSW spokesperson said workers returned to the site late last week.

The ABC Tissues spokesperson said ABC Tissues contracted construction work at the paper mill to Italian company A Celli Paper and "thereafter had no involvement at the site".

ABC Tissues managing director Henry Ngai has released a statement that said ABC Tissues had met Australian standards.

"We have been assured that all workers engaged on that site meet Australian requirements in terms of the functions they perform on site and receive reasonable rates of pay," he said.

"All aspects of the installation of machinery at the plant, including the supply of labour, become the responsibility of the company engaged to install the plant," the statement said.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that forklift drivers and electricians were working at the site without appropriate licences.

An Australian worker at the site was "stunned to see one of the guest workers make a non-compliant Chinese power tool fit a socket by stripping the cord and inserting naked wires straight into the plug", the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

It said the workers were among 40,000 expected to arrive in Australia this year on business visas to fill a specific skills gap.

The WorkCover spokesperson said 27 improvement notices had been issued to ABC Tissues this year and management had complied with them all. They included "falls, use of interpreters, amenities, signage, security fencing and electrical matters".

He said on-site interpreters were a requirement where workers had language difficulties.

In an ABC radio interview, Ngai said: "This country is short in workers - not easy to get. And good men, good worker is more difficult.

"People report to me and then I take care immediately. And then I get my project manager, Carlo, he also managing the people, to teach them the local safety feature."

The WorkCover spokesperson said about 55 foreign workers were at the paper mill and WorkCover was monitoring the site. He could not confirm the number of foreign forklift operators.

ABC Tissues is a leading manufacturer of tissues and toilet paper with manufacturing facilities in Australia and New Zealand.
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