Issue 126: March 2018
Technology to tackle exploitation of foreign workers
Last month, we wrote about wage theft and the firms undertaking pro bono legal work to secure justice for exploited temporary migrant workers. Shortly afterwards, 4Corners aired an investigation into modern slavery happening inside Canberra’s embassies and the foreign workers that are tricked into inhumane conditions as domestic servants in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, World Social Justice Day (20 February) this year focused on justice for “workers on the move”.
With the plight of temporary migrant workers increasingly under the spotlight, the Diplomacy Training Program’s (DTP) Migrant Worker International Law Reference Tool, developed in collaboration with UNSW law students, and law clerks and lawyers from Corrs, is a timely resource for advocates.
According to a 2015 report from the International Labour Organisation, there are more than 150 million migrant workers around the world. Many migrant workers travel from poor source countries to wealthy destination countries where they are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers and employment agents, who take advantage of them.
Sadly, Australia is one such destination country. Bassina Farbenblum and Laurie Berg’s 2017 survey of migrant workers shows that exploitation amounting to forced labour occurs on our shores – 2 percent of workers reported having their passport confiscated by their employer, 5 percent had to pay an upfront ‘deposit’ for a job and 4 percent were made to pay money back in cash by their employer after receiving their wages.
One worker in a case run pro bono by Clayton Utz was owed $186,000 in unpaid wages after being held in forced labour for 16 months, working 12 hours a day, every day with only one day off.
Similarly, one of Maurice Blackburn’s pro bono clients was underpaid “several hundred thousand dollars in wages” by their employer who paid the worker below the award rate, requiring them to perform a month of unpaid training, and making further deductions from the worker when stock was stolen by customers during their shift.
“The exploitation of migrant workers is a growing global problem,” affirms Patrick Earle, DTP Director. “Often advocates are not clear what rights migrant workers have, what the obligations of governments and employers are, or where to find the information that can help protect workers and end abuses.”
The Migrant Worker International Law Reference Tool addresses this problem by identifying sources of international law covering over 65 migrant worker issues across 19 sending and receiving countries.
The resource makes United Nations standards more accessible for advocates.
By selecting the relevant sending and receiving countries and the rights issue faced by the migrant worker, advocates can then view a list of the relevant international treaties and UPR recommendations that apply.
Corrs’ 2017-18 summer clerks built upon a web app originally constructed by University of New South Wales (UNSW) law students participating in the Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice course. Angelina Yurlova was one of the UNSW course students and was able to continue her involvement in developing the app as project manager among the Corrs clerks.
The Corrs-DTP collaboration on the app is the second time that the firm’s summer clerks have worked with the not-for-profit – in 2012, summer clerks prepared a guide on the legal framework for Nepalese migrant workers.
It’s encouraging to see the most recent project bringing not only a law firm and a not-for-profit, but students, a university and technology to create a product that improves access to justice for a vulnerable sector of society.
Corrs Special Counsel Katrina Sleiman oversaw the pro bono project and noted the benefits to the firm and the clerks alike. “Our partnership with the DTP gives our summer clerks an opportunity to make an important contribution to Corrs’ pro bono work,” Katrina said. “It also allows them to see first-hand the impact a new wave of legal technology is having on the practice of law.”
Patrick is confident about the impact that the partnership will have. “We know from early trials that [the tool] provides an important and much‐needed service to migrant worker advocates.”
The new Migrant Worker International Law Reference Tool can be accessed at https://corrs.neotalogic.com/a/dtptool
Read our article about the need for pro bono to assist in cases of wage theft here.
Read the Wage Theft in Australia report by UNSW’s Bassina Farbenblum and the University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) Laurie Berg here.
See the ABC’s 4Corners report into modern slavery inside diplomatic missions in Canberra.
Read about Corrs and DTP’s previous collaboration here.
STORIES IN THIS ISSUE:
AUSTRALIAN PRO BONO NEWS