Australian Report Finds Wage Theft Amongst Foreign Students & Backpackers

A landmark study by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) was carried out to uncover the widespread wage theft happening among backpackers, international students and temporary migrants in Australia.

The report titled ‘Wage Theft In Australia: Findings Of The National Temporary Migrant Work Survey’ was published on the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative website and surveyed 4,322 people who worked in Australia on a temporary visa. Respondents were composed of 2,392 international students enrolled at a university or a vocational college, and 1,440 backpackers or working holiday makers. The remaining were other workers on temporary and tourist visas.

The study which was authored by UTS senior lecturer Laurie Berg and UNSW senior law lecturer Bassina Farbenblum was recently published and revealed that one in three of these international residents are paid only half of the legal minimum wage. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman of the Australian Government, the national minimum wage is currently $18.29 per hour, which amounts to $694.90 for every 38-hour week.

There are more than 900,000 temporary migrant workers in Australia and they represent more than 10 per cent of the Australian labor market. The study found that almost a third of these workers were paid $12 per hour or less. Some 40% of these students and temp workers said that their lower paid jobs were in cafes, restaurants, or takeaways. However, the worst paid jobs are those involving working in farms, as well as fruit and vegetable picking. Almost a third of those working in these produce-picking jobs earned $10 per hour or less. One in seven was reported to have been earning $5 per hour or even less.

According to Farbenblum, a majority of these international students and backpackers were actually aware that they were being underpaid. But they believe that many people on their visa were not usually getting the legal minimum wage. Apart from poor salary, some temporary migrants also suffer from criminal forced labor. The study found 91 cases where their employers confiscated their passports.

The report showed that 173 of the respondents had to pay upfront fees of up to $1000 to get a job in Australia while 112 of the respondents said that as part of their deal with the employer, they would have to pay money back after receiving their wages. Because of these illicit working conditions, over 44 percent of these workers are paid in cash to avoid written proof. Half of them rarely or never even saw their payslips.

The exploitation occurs across various nationalities working in Australia as temporary migrants. The authors found that workers from Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, and Taiwan generally received a much lower pay than those coming from North America, UK and Ireland.