Co-authored by the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales, the report found that one third of migrant workers surveyed were paid about half the legal minimum wage.
The report is based on a comprehensive survey of 4,322 temporary migrants from 107 different nationalities. The survey was conducted online between September and December 2016, it was anonymous and open to any individual who had worked in Australia on a temporary visa. More than half of respondents were international students and over a third were backpackers, with half from countries in Asia.
Over one third of respondents reported earning $12 or less per an hour which is around half the minimum wage for a casual employee in most of the jobs in which temporary migrants work. Almost half reported earning $15 per hour or less.
The report challenged the idea that migrant workers are underpaid because they are unaware of the minimum wage rates in Australia. Bassina Farbenblum, a senior law lecturer at UNSW and one of the authors of the report said:
“We found the overwhelming majority of international students and backpackers are aware they are being underpaid. However, they believe few people on their visa expect to receive the legal minimum wage.”
Respondents reported believing that underpayment is endemic among people on their visa and most or all other people on their visa are paid less than the basic national minimum wage.
Berg, a co-author from UTS, said that some respondents had experienced exploitation and criminal forced labour. These included having their passport confiscated by their employer (2%), paying an upfront ‘deposit’ for a job (5%) and their employer requiring them to pay money back in cash after receiving their wages (4%).
The report indicates that this problem is inherent in the Australian labour market and that action is required from many actors. In particular, the report presents confronting data for educational institutions and calls on them to revaluate what support services they provide.
The Centre supports the view that government should examine the level of resourcing required to address the scale of non-compliance and consideration of specialised programs and infrastructure to prevent and remedy wage theft.
In a standout example of Clayton Utz’s wage theft work, the firm secured orders that a restaurant and its owner pay $186,000 in wages withheld from Clayton Utz’s client, who had been trafficked under a sham 457 visa arrangement and held in forced labour, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for 16 months. Clayton Utz said: