Temporary Workers Face Wage Theft, Poor Working Conditions in Australia: Survey

Backpackers and international students suffer exploitation across a cross section of jobs in Australia, a recent study shows.


Wage theft is a rampant issue in Australia, a survey conducted on the working conditions among international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants in the country, showed. Almost 30 per cent of international students and backpackers earn $12 per hour or less, which is about half the minimum wage for a casual employee, according to the findings of the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey released on Nov. 21.

“The backpackers and international students who are temporary migrants were underpaid across many industries, but the most common was the food services, especially those who serve in the food and vegetable picking businesses. At least one out of five Americans, Indians, British, Chinese and Brazilian earned half the minimum wage. Workers from Asian countries, including China, Taiwan and Vietnam, are paid lower wage rates than those hailing from North America, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The underpayment was a common factor among international students and backpackers of all major nationalities,” said the report.

Temporary migrant workers represent more than 10 per cent of the Australian labor market and the survey paints a grim picture of the working conditions of the migrant workers who come to Australia in search of a better future. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology Sydney, who surveyed 4,322 temporary migrants from 107 countries, including 15 per cent from China, eight per cent from South Korea, and five per cent from India.

The survey found that not only are these employees workers underpaid, the conditions that they work in also tantamount to criminal forced labor. These workers are required to pay cash back to their employers as soon as they receive their wages, their passports are confiscated by their employers, and they are sometimes required to pay a deposit for their job. As many as 44 per cent of overseas workers are paid in cash, and the proportion is two in three for waiters, kitchen-hands and food servers. Half of them never or rarely receive a payslip.

“At least three quarters of the backpackers and international students were aware of the fact that they were being underpaid and their wages were even lower than the minimum wages,” the report added.

The reason why most of these workers continue to do such jobs is because they usually believe that everyone else who has the same visa as them is also being underpaid or earning less than the minimum wage. They also fear a backlash if they complain about the conditions that they are forced to work in and put up with it.

Some workers have even called it modern form of slavery and add that they are grossly underpaid. “I think my first job, I got $AUS10 (£5.70) for two or three hours’ work. When I went picking strawberries, I think I averaged $AUS60 (£34.30)-a-day before tax for eight hours of hard work under the sun,” Laurent Van Eesbeeck, a Belgian backpacker who worked on a farm, told the Telegraph.

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