Support for Punjabi & Hindi speaking workers in Australia

By Indira Laisram
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Michele O’Neil, ACTU president // Pic supplied

For workers, particularly migrants and those from the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds in Australia, language barriers and lack of knowledge about workplace and employment rights are often cited as some of the causes for them suffering exploitation. In a bid to help such workers, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has created materials in Hindi and Punjabi to educate members of the Indian community about their rights.

“These materials were created in response to a surge of complaints about workplace issues from members of the Indian diaspora in Australia to our contact centre,” says Michele O’Neil, ACTU president.

In an exclusive chat with The Indian Sun, O’Neil says the materials are just one of the new ways to reach out to the Indian community. “The materials provide practical information about workers’ rights and they cover things such as workplace bullying, discrimination, rights around COVID-19, wages and leave entitlements.”

Many employers do not provide information to workers in their first language, says O’Neil. “As well as the problem of language for newer arrivals to Australia, people don’t know what the difference is in workers’ rights in Australia, so it is just not language but also just the lack of knowledge of what your rights are.”

O’Neil acknowledges that many workers from the Indian community face severe discrimination, wage theft, and harassment in the workplace. Also, if one is from a CALD background, one is disproportionately affected by these things, she adds.

Particularly with the pandemic, which affected different people in different ways, the shocking reality was that people in Australia who were born overseas were more likely to die of COVID-19 than those born here, says O’Neil. “We also know that many members of the Indian community were and still are working on the frontline in essential jobs. They kept working and showing up all through the pandemic and are continuing to do so. That’s why it’s really important that people are supported, and they have information and assistance they need.”

Despite the unions’ diverse membership, O’Neil says there were members that didn’t know the roles of the unions in Australia or didn’t know they could get support and assistance as a member of the union. Therefore, the ACTU is reaching out to the Indian community to make sure people understand the role it plays here in Australia. “They are very welcome to become members of our unions as well,” adds O’Neil.

On the numbers of complaints, O’Neil says, “I don’t have the exact statistics but the ACTU represents every union in the country. Unions themselves keep information, so the unions covering hospitality would have information. But what I know from talking to every union is that if you are from a CALD background you are more likely to harassed, bullied, face wage theft and superannuation theft. And less likely to know your rights.

“We also have members of the Indian community who are organisers, delegates and fulltime officials in our unions. So, it is just not written information that we provide, we also have each union, depending on which industry they are, that now employ members of the Indian community in the union. Also, we have many of our elected representatives in workplaces who are from an Indian background,” says O’Neil.

In addition to the materials, ACTU has also set up a phone information line that is a support centre providing information in Hindi to people. The support number is 1300 486 466.

The fact remains, information is power. “We want to make sure that everybody knows there are unions in this country that can support you if you have a problem,” sums up O’Neil.

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