Thousands of foreign workers face labour exploitation in Australia
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Thousands of foreign workers face labour exploitation in Australia

EXPLOITATION of foreigners is rampant in Australia’s labour market with one in three international students and backpackers paid only half of the minimum wage, according to new research.

According to the study released by the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative, University of New South Wales (UNSW) and University of Technology Sydney (UTS), 30 percent of foreign students and those backpacking are paid AU$12 (US$9) or less – half the legal minimum wage for the industries in which they’re working.

Those in food services experience this frequently, but it is fruit and vegetable pickers who have it the worst, according to the Wage Theft in Australia report, deemed the most comprehensive study of temporary migrants’ work and conditions in Australia.

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Authored by Laurie Berg of UTS and Bassina Farbenblum of UNSW Sydney, the report surveyed 4,322 temporary migrants from 107 countries in all Australian states and territories.

“A fifth of every nationality was paid around half the legal minimum wage. For almost 40 percent of students and backpackers, their lowest paid job was in a cafe, restaurant or takeaway,” Berg said, as quoted by UNSW Newsroom.


Source: Migrant Worker Justice Initiative

These workers know they’re being shortchanged, according to Farbenblum. “However, they believe few people on their visa expect to receive the legal minimum wage,” she said.

The underpayment may cut across all nationalities, but the degree of which it is done do vary from country to country. The report had found workers from China, Taiwan and Vietnam are paid lower than their peers from North America, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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And it goes beyond just wages too. Some working conditions can even be considered as criminal forced labour, the report found, such as being forced to pay an upfront “deposit” for their job, or employers confiscating their employees’ passports.

What this study shows is there are urgent concerns that the government, businesses, unions and other service providers to take heed of and allocate resources for action to be taken.

“It provides compelling evidence for expanded services that respond to temporary migrants’ experiences, as shared directly by them.”

A version of this article was originally published on our sister website Study International.