Underpayment of international students and backpackers commonplace in Australia


Underpayment of international students and backpackers commonplace in Australia

George Morley

7 December 2017

A recent study by the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative (MWJI) confirms that the exploitation of temporary migrants working in Australia by their employers is widespread, endemic and severe.

It confirms that recent cases—for example, 7-Eleven’s systematic underpayment of young migrant workers at its network of 620 convenience store franchises across Australia—are not aberrations but are the norm.

The vast majority of international students, working holiday makers (WHMs, euphemistically called backpackers) and other temporary migrants confront wage theft, i.e., employers stealing a portion of their wages by undercutting minimum entitlements under Australian labour law. A significant minority work under slave-like conditions.

The report, Wage Theft in AustraliaFindings of the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey, is based on the responses of 4,322 temporary migrants from 107 countries. It was conducted online between September and December last year and asked those surveyed about their lowest paid job.

At the time of the survey, the legal minimum wage for a casual worker was $22.13 per hour. Many temporary migrants were entitled to higher rates based on penalty rates and entitlements under relevant industry awards. For example, a 21-year-old fast food employee should have earned at least $24.30 per hour and $29.16 on Saturdays. For the majority of temporary migrants, however, the minimum wage is a dead letter.

About 65 percent of international students and 59 percent of backpackers earned $17 per hour or less, significantly below the minimum wage. There were no figures on what proportion actually received their legal entitlement.


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