RESPONSE TO ‘WAGE THEFT IN SILENCE’ STUDY
The landmark study ‘Wage Theft in Silence’ uncovers the shocking and endemic underpayment of temporary migrant workers in Australia. With the report placing the scale of unclaimed wages at around a billion dollars, the level of exploitation is a national shame.
Jo-anne Schofield, National Secretary of United Voice, says, “The system in Australia is broken, it has allowed wage theft for international students and backpackers to become the norm. Stealing from workers in Australia is wrong. Yet, our current laws make this all too easy.
“Wage theft for migrant workers has become a business model for too many unscrupulous Australian businesses, and the nation should be ashamed. There are pockets of the Australian labour market where the expectation that temporary migrant workers will not be paid in accordance with Australian law is close to becoming culturally entrenched.
“All workers in Australia should have the right to fair treatment and lawful pay, regardless of their employment and visa status.
“Too often in cleaning and hospitality we see unscrupulous operators exploiting migrant workers because they know they won’t complain because of the fear of losing their visa.
“Australians expect businesses that want to operate in Australia to uphold Australian law and community standards, including our rights at work. No exceptions.
“Exploitation occurs because workers’ voice has been diminished and their rights to organise and advocate through their union for improvements to living standards and workplace rights have been under persistent attack.
“Significantly, the survey participants who contacted their union had the best outcomes in recovering stolen wages. We need to change the rules to make it easier for migrant workers to join their union and be able to demand higher wages and put an end to exploitation.
“Our economy must be based on jobs which are safe and secure with guaranteed hours and fair wages. We want solutions that work across whole industries like cleaning and hospitality. We want industry bargaining. We want jobs we can count on.”
Phiraphong Thongsumrith (nicknamed Pe), migrated to Australia from Thailand. He is a permanent resident who doesn’t speak English fluently and has been fighting underpayment from a cleaning sub-contractor.
Pe says he is angry with employers that are breaking the law, “It would be a good thing for future generations of migrant workers if a spotlight is shone on these issues as the exploitation will continue to get worse if we don’t do anything.“
The report is available here.
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