New arrival refugees pressured by Australian authorities to find jobs
New arrival refugees from Burma have been pressured to look for jobs while they are on fulltime studies, and there is also an issue on accessing Burmese interpreters while they meet the Australian government agency Centrelink and Job Network.
Sai Awn Tai
28 November 2008
Signing documents is another issue for refugees when interpreters are unavailable to them. They have problem understanding the information on the papers, said Burmese refugees in Sydney.
Refugees who have spent more than ten years in isolated refugee camps at Thai-Burma border have been driven to do like skilled migrants and other Australian ordinary citizens even though their English do not meet the Australian basic level and they do not have the Australian experiences, said Mr Than Naing, Chairman of the Burmese Community Welfare Group (BCWG).
Than Aung is one of the newly arrived refugees, who have been forced to join Job Network since he arrived in Australia on November 2006. He joined the Adult English Migrant Program (AEMP), 510 hours English class program, after one week of his arriving in Coffs Harbour.
He was pressured to look for a job when he was studying fulltime. “I felt very stressed because I had to fill up five to ten jobs on the form and show to both Centrelink and Job Network, while studying fulltime English class. Sometimes I could not finish my homework,” he said in Burmese.
Than Aung also said he was told to sign the agreement even though he did not know what is written on the papers. “They always force me to do this, when I refuse or ask whether I can ask someone to explain it to me, they threaten me that they will report to Centrelink authority, and cut my allowance.
“There was a day, the Centrelink officers came to my class at Auburn Australia Centre for Language (ACL) and explained to us about signing papers. They told us if someone asks to sign the papers, we can make appointment with Centrelink staffs to explain about the papers. I was surprised when Job Network threat me like this,” he said.
Another problem that Than Aung faced took place last year, was he working at Alpha plastic company in Riverstone. Job Network advised him to work there. But his work ended after two weeks. He stopped working after he realized he was not paid. He said he complained about this to Job Network but they told him that they could not do anything about it.
After one month, Than Aung was advised by his friend to make a complaint at Workplace Ombudsman. “I called Mr Mohamad Grawi, the company’s director and told him if he will not pay my payment I will send the complaint to Workplace Ombudsman. Then he transferred the money to my bank account,” he said.
After Than Aung revealed this problem, Alpha plastic company has been investigated but the investigation found that the company had been bankrupted five months ago. “They have been broken, other company has bought it now,” said a worker at B & G Industrial Painting & Sandblasting opposite to Alpha plastic company.
May Myat Mon, who just arrived in Australia this year, faces the same problem like Than Aung. She was pressured to find a job before her AEMP 510 hours class was completed. “I have no idea how the Australia system works and how I have to search for a job,” she said.
“I signed all forms and documents that I was given. Whenever I asked for a Burmese interpreter, I was told there is no interpreter available”.
She says she had to lodge the payment form at Auburn Centrelink office every two weeks. “I feel so stressed because I have to confront the pressure from the Centrelink staff every time I went there despite the fact that I was studying fulltime. Sometimes I have problem completing my homework because I felt depressed,” she said.
Every time she goes to Centrelink, she felt like a beggar she said, “Sometimes you meet with unfriendly staff at Centrelink office. You feel like you are worthless but you have no choice because you know nothing”.
Mon wants to rely on herself but with her poor English and with the lack of local knowledge and experience gives her no chance to get a job. “I want to study English and take some professional courses at TAFE. So that I will have a guarantee for my future life in Australia,” she said.
The pressure on newly arrived refugees by Australian employment industry that provides little and short term English class and vocational training will affect on both refugees long term lives and Australian employment’s standard, said Mr Than Naing, Chairperson of the Burmese Community Welfare Group (BCWG).
“Newly arrived Burmese refugees are not ready for Australian employers. They do not meet the employers’ demand because they are unskilled and unfamiliar with the Australian systems and they do not have local experience, besides their poor language.
“The lives of new arrival refugees are hard in the English speaking countries like Australia. Refugees often face double depression before and after they arrive in Australia. The experience like Burmese refugees, they had been mentally and physically tortured by the Burmese military government when they were in Burma. They are afraid to ask questions because they were not allowed to question the authorities when they were in Burma. Most of them have been in refugee camps for more than ten years at Thai-Burma border.
“Now they are in Australia, their life suddenly change. They are in the country that is totally different from Burma and the life in refugee camp. The question I want to ask the Australian government is will these refugees be able to learn the system and lifestyle in Australia within a short period time? Will they be able to survive like ordinary Australian citizens or like skilled migrants if Australian government do not provide enough English class and vocationally training?,” Mr Naing said.
Even skilled refugee couples likes Rosy Tun Kyint and Lagay Donnas who had nursing experience in Mae La refugee camp for more than ten years, still do not meet the Australian Nursing Standards and they will need to study the Nursing Degree again.
Rosy was a nurse with 12 years experience while Lagay had worked as an assistant to a doctor in Mae La clinic. Both of them want to get a nursing job in Sydney but they will not be qualified unless they speak fluent English and pass a nursing exam in Australia.
Rosy said in Burmese language “me and my husband are currently studying Aged Care fulltime course at Ultimo TAFE. We want to do the Enrolled Nursing course after we have completed Aged Care course”.
But Rosy said there is a pressure. Every two weeks both she and her husband have to see the Job Network. “We are in pressure from the Centrelink and Job Network. Life is very hard when you are coping with a lot of pressures like children pressure, study pressure and pressure from new environment like life in Sydney. Sometimes you feel like you’re going to become crazy,” she said.
Some refugees like Thant Zin who can’t speak, read and write English, are keen to take any jobs. “I asked Job Network to give me any job. I am ready to take any job, but they told me to look for a job on internet. I don’t know how to use computer to look for a job because I cannot read English,” he said.
More than a month ago a new arrival Burmese refugee woman received a letter from Job Network. The letter informed her that her Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) 510 hour class had finished. “I showed the letter to my AMES’s teacher because I was not sure about that, but she told me that the 510 class will finish in December. When my teacher saw the letter she was angry and call the Job Network about that. Finally I got my class hours back,” Ma Thin Thin Khaing said in Burmese language.
Mr Than Naing says, “Australian government needs to do long term investment for the refugees to improve their English and occupational skills to meet the Australian standard. If refugees are continuing to face with this kind of pressure, they will end up with another trauma again in Australia. It is like pushing someone who cannot drive a car to drive a car but he or she even does not know how to start a car. It means that he or she will drive the car to nowhere but will be just sitting.”
Mr Naing says Centrelink needs to provide special staff who has the knowledge of refugees’ background for refugees who had experience in torture and trauma. “Centrelink should not consider refugees like other normal clients, like skilled migrants and other ordinary job seekers. Even among refugees there are many categories, depending on their countries and the educational background,” he said.