Culture

Backpackers And Migrants Are Getting Massively Rorted By Australian Workplaces

A third of backpackers and a quarter of international students are paid $12 per hour or less -- around half the legal minimum wage.

A new study has revealed the truly awful extent of wage theft in Australia, showing that a third of backpackers and a quarter of international students are paid $12 per hour or less — around half the legal minimum wage.

The National Temporary Migrant Work Survey, conducted by academics from UNSW and UTS late last year, is the most comprehensive survey to date on wage theft and working conditions for temporary migrants in Australia. Its findings are stunningly dire, revealing large-scale wage theft across a number of industries, with farm work and fruit and vegetable picking amongst the worst. While migrants of all nationalities experienced severe wage theft, migrants from Asia reported the lowest wage rates overall.

In addition to the figures above, ten percent of participants reported even lower hourly wages of between $6 and $10 per in their lowest-paid job. Three percent reported a wage of $0 to $5 per hour, which when you consider that there are over 900,000 temporary migrants in Australia, could amount to tens of thousands of people in this country experiencing this kind of extreme underpayment. In some cases, workers’ passports were confiscated by employers, and some workers were forced to pay an upfront deposit to receive a job.

The study also found that most participants were well aware that their rates of pay and working conditions were illegal, but believed that it was pretty normal for most people on their visa to be underpaid regardless. As the authors point out, this speaks to an “urgent need for resourcing of legal services, community organisations and unions to provide far greater levels of support to underpaid temporary migrants”.

The authors also urged the government and businesses to take immediate steps to better identify, prevent and remedy wage theft that is currently going undetected.

“Temporary migrants do not often have a voice in public debate and policy formulation concerning them,” the authors wrote. “This is in part because they are often in Australia for short periods of time, live and work on the fringes of Australian society, are often not native English speakers, are young and, for many, are fearful of losing their job or jeopardising their visa if they speak out about working conditions.”

“The study confirms that wage theft is endemic among international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants in Australia. For a substantial number of temporary migrants, it is also severe. This raises urgent and challenging questions for a number of actors.”

You can read the full study online here.