Action needed to address rampant wage theft and protect vulnerable workers
21 November 2017
A damning study released today makes clear that Australia still has a long way to go to go in addressing systemic wage theft, including ensuring protections are in place for vulnerable workers to come forward and recover underpayments, according to Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Giri Sivaraman, who is acting for 7-Eleven and Caltex workers in underpayment cases, said the Wage Theft in Australia report released today by the University of NSW and the University of Technology Sydney detailed appalling experiences of international students and backpackers seeking access to fair pay in Australia.
“The findings released in today’s study are damning in outlining the reality facing a number of international students and backpackers working in Australia,” Mr Sivaraman said.
“To see that up to one in three international students and backpackers are being paid half the legal minimum wage is shocking, and it is clear from this study that wage theft is rampant across many industries.
“Of significant concern to us in this study are findings that show the overwhelming majority of international students and backpackers are aware that they are being underpaid.
“This is something we have seen in underpayment cases we have acted in – workers have been aware they are being underpaid, but are reluctant to come forward because they are concerned about potential impacts on their visa, study or future employment.
“As today’s report shows, a number of international students and backpackers participating in the study have indicated they have worked in contravention of their visa requirements – something we know occurs because for many their pay rates are so low that extra hours are the only way they can make ends meet.
“We have had to seek visa amnesties for such workers to ensure they can come forward and recover their underpayments, and sadly we suspect there are many others who have not reported underpayments because they are concerned that if they do they will lose their visa.
“In our view a broader visa amnesty is needed to protect workers who come forward with concerns about underpayments.
“A Senate Committee also recently recommended legislative amendments to provide that the protections of the Fair Work Act can be enforced even when a person has breached their visa conditions or has performed work in the absence of a visa consistent with any other visa requirements, and we believe such reforms would help address many of these issues,” he said.