A recent survey in Australia found out that chronic underpayment by their employers was being faced by thousands of temporary foreign workers in Australia. The study results underscore the popular belief and the growing evidence that Australia is a place where a large number of migrant workers are considered to be underclass and a significant section of such migrant workers are also international students or just adventurous backpackers whose voices are rarely heard despite them facing widespread labor abuses.
“The owner exploited my lack of English, lack of knowledge of the law and work rights,” said a migrant worker through a translator. “I want people to know what happened to me so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
In recent years, there has been a growing sense of awareness about the abuse being faced by temporary workers in Australia and the latest survey adds to that body of evidence. For those immigrants who simply want to make some money while visiting Australia and for those who want to work and live in the country, Australia represents an attractive proposition because of its developed economy, healthy environment and tight job markets in many places.
Description of low pay and long hours at work for many temporary migrant workers in Australia was given in a report prepared for lawmakers last year called ‘A National Disgrace’. The bad working conditions at some of the convenience stores and farms for foreign workers have also been highlighted in local news reports.
A section of the Australian polity however argue that many foreign workers eat into the jobs of local Australians looking for work and this discussion has also assumed a greater dimension in the form of a debate about the number of foreign workers that the country should admit into the country and whether such workers be allowed remain back permanently in Australia.
900,000 migrant workers who have rights to work in Australia were covered in the survey which has been named Wage Theft in Australia. While one forth of the international students managed to earn less than 12 Australian dollars, or $9, every hour, and nearly half of them earned 15 Australian dollars or less, the survey found.
The national minimum wage in Australia is 18.29 Australian dollars, or $13.84, per hour. But more is made by casual employees who have the right to vacation or sick leave.
The survey found that fruit and vegetable picking and farm work were the worst paying jobs.
“We know now that this is entrenched, it’s widespread, and for many of these migrant workers, wage theft is severe,” said Bassina Farbenblum, a co-author of the report and a lecturer in law at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
The survey also found that knowledge that they were being underpaid was available with many of the workers surveyed. Expectation of getting the legal minimum wage did not exist with them due to their visa status.
“We’ve got an invisible, large, low-wage labor market,” said Laurie Berg, a law lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney and a co-author. “The issues are disguised and we’re not addressing that.”
(Adapted from The New York Times)