Exploitation of Migrant Workers Set to Rise – Whistleblowing


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Natural disasters, the Covid-19 pandemic and a federal election may have wiped the exploitation of international students and temporary visa holders off the front pages of newspapers, but it remains a significant problem in Australia – and a problem hidden because workers are often unaware of it. of their rights or too scared to speak up for fear of repercussions.

There are fears the problem could get significantly worse as international borders reopen and students return to a country in desperate need of workers, which now allows their hours to be unlimited.

Exploitation of migrant workers

Not only will this allow wage theft and exploitation to continue, but it could also mean that students will prioritize work over study commitments – many of them come from cultures where one expects that once they win, they have to send money home to support the family.

This poses a real problem for Australia, and it is not the first time.

In 2019, the Migrant Worker Task Force report found that around a quarter of international students were paid around half the legal minimum wage, with exploitation of international students described as “endemic”.

Around the same time the report was published there were numerous reports detailing real case studies – McDonalds and Seven-Eleven were named as two of the most prolific offenders and there were new calls to make wage theft a crime.

In 2020, a report by accounting and consultancy firm Big Four PwC estimated that around 13% of Australia’s total workforce was affected by underpayment, with higher rates in some sectors, such as the hotel sector.

A systemic problem

Australia is already dealing with several very serious cases of wage theft committed by some of Australia’s largest and best-known companies and institutions, including Qantas, National Australia Bank, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and large supermarkets.

Coles was accused last year by the Fair Work Ombudsman of defrauding more than 7,500 workers of $115 million between January 2017 and March 2020.

While it might be fair to say that Australia’s system for allocating wages, employee classifications, as well as tax and pensions can be exceptionally complicated. What if big business – like Crown Casino – can’t get it right, what hope do small businesses (the majority of Australian businesses) have?

That said, that’s really no excuse for not making sure workers are paid appropriately for the work they do.

Recently, Australian Revenue Authority was also criticized for dragging its feet in hunting down rogue employers who failed to pay employees billions of dollars in super rights.

A senatorial committee set up in 2019 to Investigate Illegal Employee Underpayment recently finalized its report and recommended that the federal government make changes to the Fair Work Act to prohibit wage theft. He also noted that some companies deliberately engage in systemic wage theft in order to reduce costs and increase profits.

The Senate committee found that hospitality, universities, horticulture and cleaning are among the industries most at fault. He put the value of underpayments and unpaid pensions at more than $6 billion a year.

Workers’ rights are human rights

The Senate committee also found that the current legislative and regulatory framework is inadequate and recommends legislation that would apply to all types of wage theft, including charges, penalty rates, overtime, holidays, allowances and pension guarantee.

The report also contains several recommendations to protect migrant workers, including protecting whistleblowers and temporary visa holders who report exploitation or wage theft.

Several jurisdictions in Australia, including Victoria and Queensland, have already made wage theft a crime. In New South Wales
an Act to amend the Crimes Act 1900 make it an offense for an employer to fail to pay a worker’s wages and other entitlements; and for other purposes was presented to the Legislative Council in 2021, but has not yet progressed.

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