I came to Australia on the 29 September 2013.
I am from Pakistan. Prior to coming to Australia I spent four years at the University of Engineering and Technology in Beshawar. Once I had finished my study I spent nine years working as an engineer.
The first three years I worked with a Japanese company called Toshiba Medical as an installation engineer and then the last six years I worked for the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL), which is a transmission and distribution company.
At SNGPL, I was a shift manager in charge of 35 people, this was a good job that I enjoyed. I was inspired to move to Australia after hearing from a former colleague who had moved here. I thought there would be great opportunities for me, my wife and my two children.
When I arrived in Adelaide I tried really hard to find an engineering job but my lack of contacts and networks made it really difficult to find work in my field. I had a family to support so I decided to look for alternative work.
The first job I got was in a car wash. I worked there for seven months. It was hard work and they only paid me $14 per hour cash in hand. I knew I was being underpaid but I took the job anyway.
I then heard from my landlord that there were jobs going at a place called Virginia Farms through a contractor named Maggie. Maggie only paid me $17 per hour even though I was a casual and the minimum wage was over $20 per hour at that time.
The work was really hard. I was packing potatoes and also doing stacking and bagging. I was working eight or nine hours a day.
I spoke with my landlord who had set me up with the job with Maggie and asked if there were any other opportunities. The landlord connected me with employment through a woman named Sue who ran another contracting company. Sue also paid me a flat rate of $17, again below the legal minimum wage, and I was working 12 hour shifts from 5pm to 5am each day.
I started working with this contractor in June 2014 and joined the National Union of Workers in September 2014. I joined because one of my colleagues had joined and he urged me to also. I knew we were treated poorly and were paid less than the minimum wage. I joined the union to change things for me and my colleagues.
I never actually met Sue until one year after I started working for her at Zerella but she was my employer. I reported directly to site management and always dealt directly with them. The job was slightly better than the one I had at Virginia Farms but management treated us very poorly and the safety standards at the site are terrible.
Things started to change on site after workers at D’Vine Ripe tomatoes and other sites came forward to tell their story to Four Corners in May 2015. It was a few months after this that I met Sue for the first time.
Zerella was transferring contract workers to direct jobs with the company. Sue came on site to convince workers to stay working for her but most workers transferred over to the company and the contractor was dumped.
Some things have improved since then. We now receive sick pay and annual leave and many of my colleagues have joined the National Union of Workers. Now that workers are not scared to join the union people are starting to speak up about the way we are treated.
I was moved from night shift to day shift without any proper explanation. I asked the union to intervene and the company moved me back onto my preferred shift.
After my incident, the company was forced to say to people that it was ok for them to join the union.
I am confident that we can improve things more at Zerella if we can grow the union. There are lots of things that are still unfair.
Many of the workers at Zerella are new migrants. Companies don’t tell people about their rights but workers need to know their rights, their right to fair pay, their right to have a say and their right to join a union. Everyone needs to join the union and stick together that’s the way you can push the employer to do the right thing.
I want me and my colleagues to get a higher rate of pay and have some choice over when we work. I also want the company to treat us with some respect. We are not treated well, we are not treated like human beings.
I also want to improve safety at Zerella. In my last job in Pakistan I made sure we had strict OHS procedures and everyone was safe. There are no training and OHS procedures at Zerella, one guy had his leg crushed with a pallet shifter. If we get better safety standards things will improve for everyone.
One day I want to work as an Engineer in Australia. I have considered moving to Melbourne to pursue this. Until I do this, I want to work with the National Union of Workers to improve things for farm workers. I want to make sure people don’t have to go through what I went through when I came to this country.