Published: Wed, November 22, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Foreign students, backpackers face 'endemic wage theft in Australia'

Foreign students, backpackers face 'endemic wage theft in Australia'

The study was carried out by the University of Technology Sydney and the University of New South Wales.

Temporary migrant workers make up around 10% of Australia's workforce.

Bassina Farbenblum, co-author of the report, stated that the study also dispels the myth that underpayment occurs simply because temporary migrants don't know the minimum wage. Some of the workers were subject to criminal exploitation.

Food services emerged as being particularly bad for underpaying workers, with two in five participants having their lowest paid job in cafés, restaurants and takeaway shops.

"At least three quarters of the backpackers and worldwide students were aware of the fact that they were being underpaid and their wages were even lower than the minimum wages", the report added. Australia's legal minimum wage for casual workers is AUD 22.13 (USD 16.74), however the study showed that 30% of worldwide students and backpackers were earning AUD 12 (USD 9.08) per hour or less.

Worldwide students and backpackers working in Australia are subjected to "systemic wage theft", with about a third paid half the minimum wage and those from Asia the worst-hit, a study found yesterday.

Berg says the study also shows global students and backpackers encounter conditions that may constitute criminal forced labour.

A total of 91 respondents had their passports confiscated by employers, 173 were required to pay 1,000 dollars (£570) upfront to secure a job and 112 were asked to pay money back to their employer in cash after receiving their wages. Chinese workers are also more likely to be paid in cash.

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Foreign students, backpackers face 'endemic wage theft in Australia'

"At some point, virtually everyone in this country has enjoyed food or services that have involved serious underpayment of worldwide students or backpackers", Ms Berg added.

"We found the overwhelming majority of global students and backpackers are aware they are being underpaid". "However, they believe few people on their visa expect to receive the legal minimum wage", she said.

"A fifth of every nationality was paid around half the legal minimum wage". "For nearly 40 per cent of students and backpackers, their lowest paid job was in a cafe, restaurant or takeaway". Half never or rarely receive a payslip.

Ms Berg also believes the exploitation of workers from overseas has negative repercussions for Australian workers.

"Some of them are very anxious about their visa or they're actually quite loyal to the migrant businesses that often employ them, so they're hesitant to rock the boat, they're anxious about whether they'll find another job" Ms James said.

Employment minister Michaelia Cash responded to the report by urging youths who felt they were underpaid to contact the government's Fair Work Ombudsman.

Some workers have even called it modern form of slavery and add that they are grossly underpaid.

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