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“I can survive until the end of May, maximum.”

Apr 20, 2020 • 15m 05s

There are over 1 million migrant workers in Australia who aren’t eligible for any financial support from the government as they try to navigate their way through this crisis. Some face destitution and homelessness. Today, we speak to one migrant worker negotiating this new reality.

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“I can survive until the end of May, maximum.”

205 • Apr 20, 2020

“I can survive until the end of May, maximum.”

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

More than two million workers aren’t eligible for the government’s economic support measures designed to help people through the current crisis.

Archival tape -- interview:

“My name is Joanne.”
“My name is Tori.”
“My name is Felicia…”

RUBY:

They work in industries like hospitality, retail, and tourism…

Archival tape -- interview:

I’m going without meals so I can ensure my four kids have something to eat.

RUBY:

These sectors have been obliterated in the past few weeks by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Archival tape -- interview:

I didn’t even get a chance to work in my new role before the business closed its doors. And if it weren’t for my parents who sent food, I wouldn’t be able to eat.

RUBY:

1.1 million of those workers are migrants, here on temporary visas.

Archival tape -- Agustina:

I’m Agustina. I’m 29 years old. I’m from Argentina.

RUBY:

Some have been here for years, and they’re now stranded in a country that isn’t offering them support, unable to get home as borders remain shut.

Archival tape -- Agustina:

You know, the next 6 months are kind of…. if you’ve got enough to survive then great but if you don’t, the message is you have to go home.

RUBY:

Numerous groups are calling for financial support to be extended to these workers, but so far the government has refused.

Archival tape -- Agustina:

I can survive for another month, there are people that don’t.

RUBY:

Today - producer Ruby Schwartz speaks to one migrant worker who is in the middle of this new reality.

AGUSTINA:

Hello?

RUBY S:

Hi, Agustina?

AGUSTINA:

Yes. How are you?

RUBY S:

Good. How are you?

AGUSTINA:

Yeah, I'm good. I'm good. Sorry I was on another call.

RUBY S:

No worries. Is now an okay time? Sorry. I know I'm a little bit early.

AGUSTINA:

No, that's all right. I was just getting some things organised because I'm helping some Argentinians and trying to get them back home.

RUBY S:

Can I step back for one second, Agustina. I'm wondering first if you’d mind introducing yourself.

AGUSTINA:

Yep. So I'm Agustina. I'm originally from Argentina. I'm twenty nine years old. I've been in Australia for three years now. And I have been stood down with no pay for my job three and a half weeks ago. So if I don't get any kind of support in a month, I'll become homeless, broke, one hundred percent. I would be on zero dollars. I'm kind of living on the last little savings I've got, so my future is very, very, very uncertain.

RUBY S:

I’m sorry to hear that… Can you tell me a little bit about what your life was like in Argentina. before you came here?

AGUSTINA:

Okay. So I'm from Buenos Aires city. I studied psychology after school, but then I became an English teacher as the second language. Argentina is an amazing place to travel and it's an amazing, amazing country to live in. But it is a local you find yourself in economic hardship in a lot of insecure situations.

And I had this particular experience where I was held hostage. Three men came with guns into the house and they just tied us up and they locked us on and they stole most of the things from the house, all the computers. And they just locked us up. The five of us in a very small toilet.

And that changed my life. Obviously, after that situation, even though I did therapy and I I went through a lot of support from my family and friends. I never felt safe again. I never felt safe at home. I didn't feel safe on the streets. I didn't feel safe anywhere.

RUBY S:

And so that was part of the reason that you decided that you wanted to move to Australia?

AGUSTINA:

Yeah. So I didn't know what life was going to be like. I've never lived anywhere that wasn't Argentina before. So I didn't really know how I could feel.

In the beginning, I was like, OK, mom, I'm actually coming back. I was really scared. But then two days or three days after I came to Australia, I remember walking around Bondi, I was in Bondi beach. And no one no one talked to me or no one like cat-called me. I felt so safe that I was like, OK, this is good. I started relaxing and I just fell in love with the place completely. Yeah. And it saved me to be honest. Like, as soon as I realized I felt safe my life started changing. I just decided I wanted to be a travel agent. I went to every single travel agency I could possibly go and I knocked on every single one of them and I insisted for like three and a half weeks.

Eventually, Peter Pan Adventure travel hired me. And I just fell in love with it so much. So the reason why I came to Australia started changing. And this coronavirus situation, obviously, like… It's a shock.

RUBY S:

Agustina do you remember when you first heard about coronavirus?

AGUSTINA:

Yeah. So in the beginning I heard about it online, I guess. And then we started talking about it with our bosses, but no one really had much information. Australia kind of was a bit late with that, I guess. So I remember about pretty much like everyone else on the planet, like we'd never thought it was going to be this big. But then my anxiety started growing because obviously, like the more the days passed, it just became bigger and bigger.

So what I had to do was to tell my casual staff that I have no hours for them just because literally everyone was left Byron Bay and there was no people booking anything. I just couldn't do it. So that was the first. And then one afternoon at some stage, I got a call from my manager and I found out that I was stood down with no pay and that it was for an indefinite time. So when this happened, I got really scared. I was like, okay, I am going to survive another month and that's it.

RUBY S:

What government support are you able to access at this time, given that you have been stood down for now, which means you have no income coming in?

AGUSTINA:

one. So in my particular case, because of my particular visa, I don't qualify for the job keeper because I'm on a training visa. I don’t know if I’d be able to access my superannuation. And I personally like, I understand that Australians are a priority. So I understand that this is not an easy situation for the government and just say, yeah, we support everyone, but obviously the country has to survive by the same time, like.

There has to be some kind of help at some stages, because otherwise in a month or two, you're gonna have like unlimited international homeless people here.

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RUBY S:

So Agustina of the government has said that people who aren't Australian citizens or residents, that if they consider it themselves, that they should go home. But I'm wondering, can you go home? Is that actually an option for you?

AGUSTINA:

I mean, there's no option. There are no flights. But the point is Argentina is closed, not the borders completely, but they have only allowed an allowance of 700 people a day. And they're not even considering the urgent cases, they're only considering like they're just randomly choosing people, I guess that already have flight. The people that have no flight is going to be the last.

RUBY S:

So you work in travel. Are other people on temporary visas coming to you for help? Are you part of trying to work out these flights for them?

Yeah. So basically, that's the thing like when this thing happened. I've always since I was leading the Latino market in terms of tourism I kind of became known in that in the Latino community in Australia. I'm in all WhatsApp group, some Facebook groups. So I started having a lot of messages like what's going to happen? What do I do? Where do I go? The thing is that there was no information.

People started panicking. Suddenly I started having millions of messages and more and more and more people getting into the groups and that's when I collapsed.

So I had a massive anxiety attack. I ended up calling an ambulance. I was really stressed. My life was collapsing. I was trying to help all these people. I didn't know what to do with my life. I also like the unknown also scared me and kind of took me a few days to come back to my feet.

And then I reorganized myself with them. And now there's a group of 32 people that are basically working as a parallel embassy, like literally there’s people working in contact with the consulate and the embassies and the airlines.

RUBY S:

So given that at the moment you can’t get home, what are you going to do? What happens then?

AGUSTINA:

Like. And then I have to ask for people to lend you money. Also like, I read a lot online and I can see a lot of people saying, no, you should go home, which you see, I get it, but I'm not traveling. I'll be here for three years. I'm on training program, I’ve got a car, I’ve got a lease. I've got bills on my name. I've got a life, like this is my home.

I don't understand why me that I helped. And I did all I did. And I and I worked so much for Australia. I wouldn't get any help at least to pay rent. I don't need, as I said, I don't need $700 dollars. I could survive with $200 a week at the moment. And I don't know if you think about the like, some kind of little release for the travelers or the ones are still here. Even if it's a bit would generate a lot of OK, the government at least wants us to be in a decent position and not homeless. You know, like. I don't know if nothing changes and I cannot get any kind of help on anything. I can survive with their savings I have until maybe the end of May, maximum.

RUBY S:

Can I ask... what would it mean to you to be able to access the JobKeeper wage subsidy? Because obviously there's a lot of campaigning that is going on at the moment saying migrant workers, temp workers, they like they need this wage subsidy. What would it mean to you if the government said, OK, we're going to extend it?

AGUSTINA:

Oh man. I would relax. I would breathe. I mean, I know I'm not the number one priority because I got a month of money, but it would mean that I can actually breathe like, you know, that I would know that I can hundred percent guarantee pay rent and pay food and not become a homeless and actually have money to access any kind of medical situation. Because obviously, like non-Australian. I don't have Medicare.

I mean, it means that I will have peace of mind, a roof and food. It’s, like, dignity. I also like my question without being disrespectful to anyone is: I pay taxes. I’m as much as even if I'm a temporary citizen or resident, I'm here doing exactly the same as everyone does. What makes me not entitled to any kind of help when this situation happens and I have no other way to support myself? Just a bit of help would be, like, amazing.

RUBY S:

Thanks so much, I’ll chat to you soon.

AGUSTINA:

Thanks to you. Have a good day.

RUBY S:

You too. Bye.

AGUSTINA:

Bye bye.

RUBY JONES:

Unions and business groups have raised concerns about the welfare of migrant workers... and have called on the government to provide them with support.

However the government is standing firm, citing the cost of expanding its wage subsidies.

Archival tape -- David Speers:

What would it have cost to extend this to foreign workers or indeed more casuals?

Archival tape -- Josh Frydenberg:

Well you add an extra million people onto the JobKeeper program that’s an extra $18b.

Archival tape -- David Speers:

So you could afford $130b, but you couldn’t afford $18b more?

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RUBY:

Also in the news…

Federal health minister Greg Hunt says Australia has achieved a “sustained and genuine” flattening of the curve, when it comes to cases of Covid-19.

Hunt said that the rate of increase in new cases has been below one per cent for the past seven days.

The minister also announced that an extra 100 million protective masks will be distributed to health care workers over the next 6 weeks.

An extra 3.5 million doses of the flu vaccine have also been made available.

The National Cabinet is expected to sign off on a decision tomorrow to lift the ban on elective surgeries and IVF.

Elective surgeries were cancelled last month as there were fears hospitals wouldn’t have the capacity to handle an influx of Covid-19 patients.

However the slower rate of growth of the virus, and the roll out of more personal protective equipment, means the National Cabinet is likely to allow surgeries, as well as IVF, again.


And in the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has begun gradually returning to work, after being hospitalised from Covid-19.

Johnson is retaking the reigns at a time when his government is facing sustained criticism over its response to the crisis, including a lack of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

There are over 1 million migrant workers in Australia who aren’t eligible for any financial support from the government as they try to navigate their way through this crisis. Some have been here for years, and they’re now stranded in a country that won’t help them and unable to get home as borders remain shut. Today, we speak to one migrant worker negotiating this new reality.

Guest: 7am producer Ruby Schwartz.

Background reading:

The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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205: “I can survive until the end of May, maximum.”