Australia: Employers pay most international students half of legal min wage - report
The National Union of Workers and Young Workers Hub in Australia ran youth leadership training and action around wage theft to mark the International Youth Day. Source: Facebook/IUF Asia/Pacific International Youth Day

Australian employers are exploiting a “broken system” to underpay legions of temporary migrants working for them, a group that includes international students, a new report has found.

According to the Wage Theft in Silence: Findings from the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey report by the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative, this group of workers were paid “roughly half the legal minimum wage in their lowest paid job in Australia”.

Bassina Farbenblum, report co-author and senior law lecturer at the University of New South Wales said: “It’s clear that Australia now has a large, silent underclass of hundreds of thousands of underpaid migrant workers.

“The scale of unclaimed wages is likely well over a billion dollars.”

Employers capitalise on a culture of impunity, assuming migrant workers will be too scared to take remedial action.

On the other hand, temporary migrant employees lack access to Australia’s labour law regime and institutions that would help them seek remedies for underpayment – the report found there is a “vast underrepresentation” in terms of reported complaints made each year, compared to the depth and scope of underpayment to this particular group of workers.

“Among the over 2,250 survey participants who acknowledged that they had been underpaid while working on a temporary visa in Australia, more than nine in ten (91 percent) suffered wage theft in silence. Only a small number sought to recover unpaid wages,” the report wrote.

The majority were in the dark about how to seek justice, according to the report. Two in five reported they not knowing what to do. This includes those familiar with Western legal culture and those fluent in speaking English.

Another barrier to recovering their wages was the perception that it was “too much work” – a third of respondents gave this reason, while one in six said they found the forms too complicated.

Among those who had tried to recover wages, two in three participants reported they recovered nothing. Less than one in six (16 percent) recovered the full amount of wages they were owed.

The figures aren’t any better among international students.

“Among international students who contacted their educational institution, 68 percent recovered nothing and only seven percent recovered all their unpaid wages. The ten participants who contacted a union had the best outcomes, with the highest proportions of participants recovering all (30 percent) or some (40 percent) of their unpaid wages,” the report wrote.

International students are more likely to report or seek to address wage theft in future, compared with 43 percent of working holiday makers.

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