When a group of refugees asked for help navigating the construction industry because they believed they were being exploited, Hedayat Osyun decided to go one step further.
He started his own construction company as a social enterprise, now known as Community Construction, which only hires and trains newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers. It’s the safe haven he would have benefited from as a teenager who fled the Taliban and arrived in Australia in 2009.
âI have decided to offer refugees and migrants a safe platform so that they can thrive, contribute to this country and work proudly.
“I’ve found that hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers are being exploited in their workplace because they don’t speak English, don’t have a strong network and don’t know how to find their way around the system.”
Since it was founded in 2017, the company has employed and trained 65 refugees from various origins, including Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. In addition to receiving a living wage, they will also receive support to help them settle in Australia.
âWhen you start working with me, I’ll become like a member of your family,â says Osyun. âIf you receive documents or letters, please contact me. I help them enroll for courses, I help them sponsor their families, get their licenses, everything. “
They held informal English classes during lunch breaks before partnering with Navitas to provide professional classes to staff.
“All the basic things that we take for granted are a struggle for them, and I try to help them through the entire settlement process.”
Community Construction has worked on a range of projects from commercial buildings and hospitality equipment to home renovations. It recently completed cultural installations in Darling Harbor and Parramatta and renovated a five-star hotel in Manly.
Nasrat Najafi, 25, worked for Community Construction for three years before starting his own painting business recently.
“I worked with [Osyun] For years he trained me, taught me how to impregnate, lay tiles and paint. He helped me get my licenses and paperwork in order, and now I have my own four-person business, âsaid Najafi.
âBefore working with him, I was a mechanic, but I was an apprentice, so my salary was very low. I worked like this for a year before Nick [Osyun] told me to work for him. “
Najafi, who came to Australia in 2012 at the age of 19, said he chose to work with Osyun because he had offered to see him through the unification process.
“He is a good man. He has helped many refugees like me and made our lives easier. He taught me the craft and running a business with all that paperwork. “
“He was a very good boss and a good teacher.”
While his language skills and networks have helped Osyun with business, as a refugee he has gained the trust of his employees.
When the Taliban attacked his village in Afghanistan in 2009, Osyun’s mother begged him to go and look for a future elsewhere. While traveling to Australia, he thought several times that he was going to die before arriving on Christmas Island, where he was imprisoned for three months. He was treated “like a criminal” and his detention hit him “physically and emotionally”.
âIt was like being in prison, it was such a traumatic experience. It has become an integral part of my memory. Now, 11 years later, I still feel the trauma. “
Newly arrived migrants and refugees have a higher unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country, but this varies depending on qualifications, age, English language skills and length of stay in Australia.
Refugee and migrant agency Ames Australia released an analysis of employment data from the National Skills Commission (NSC) in September 2020, finding that the pandemic is exacerbating a gap between the unemployment rate of migrants and that of the Australian-born population.
“There are twice as many migrants and refugees looking for work as Australian-born job seekers,” the analysis says.
“Traditionally, newly arrived migrants and refugees have a higher unemployment rate than the general population – around 5.9% compared to 4.7% for the Australian-born population based on 2019 figures.”
After his release from Christmas Island, Osyun worked as a laborer in Sydney – a job he calls “modern slavery”. He says his experience is not uncommon.
âSome of my colleagues with a refugee background told me that they worked for a company for three months and never got paid. Some were asked to work overtime for free, while others were fired without explanation or payment.
âAnd they have no idea what to do about it. Some come from corrupt societies and think that it is the same here. Others fear that they could compromise their settlement process if they complain. “
He says he saw recently arrived refugees and migrants become hopeless and disillusioned by their experience in the industry, which exacerbated the trauma they had already endured trying to get to Australia.
âThis exploitation is a very profound and fundamental problem. There is no accountability, they just use people. I just thought it was wrong and I can do something about it. “
He is determined to grow the social enterprise.
âI think it can be national, even international. If you give refugees and asylum seekers a chance, they can show you how hardworking they are. You just need equal opportunities.
âThe sky is the limit,â he says. “I am so proud of it and all the work we are doing and I am very hopeful for the future.”