Australia backpacker exploitation 'endemic', study finds


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Those undertaking fruit-picking jobs received the lowest pay, the study found

One in three backpackers and a quarter of foreign students working in Australia are being paid about half the minimum wage or less, a study has said.

The study, billed as the most comprehensive of its kind, found that wage theft of temporary migrants is endemic in Australia.

Overall, conditions are worst for those employed in food services and on farms, and for workers from Asian countries.

Authorities have urged foreign workers to report cases of exploitation.

More than 4,300 workers from 107 countries were surveyed in the “Wage Theft in Australia” report, conducted by law professors at University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and University of New South Wales (UNSW).

It found a third of backpackers were paid A$12 (£6.80, $9) per hour or less, well below the legal minimum rate of A$22.13 for casual staff.

On average, Asian workers received lower wages than people from the UK and North America.

Temporary migrants make up 11% of Australia’s workforce.

Concerning statistics

The study authors said underpayment remains rampant across all industries, but some fare particularly badly.

“For almost 40% of students and backpackers, their lowest paid job was in a cafe, restaurant or takeaway,” said co-author Prof Bassina Farbenblum, from UNSW.

Those paid the worst were undertaking fruit-picking and farm jobs, where one in seven received as little as A$5 per hour, and almost a third earned A$10 per hour or less.

Survey respondents also reported other law violations that raised concerns about possible forced labour, the authors said.

  • 91 workers reported having their passport confiscated by an employer
  • 173 workers had to pay an upfront “deposit” to secure a job
  • 112 workers were asked to pay cash back to their employers after receiving wages.

Half of overseas workers reported either never or rarely ever receiving a pay slip, while almost half said they were paid in cash.

Myth dispelled

The report also found that a majority of workers knew they were being underpaid, but many did not expect to receive the legal minimum.

This contradicts a popular assumption that workers are underpaid because they are unaware of the minimum wage, the authors said.

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In response to the report, Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman said it urged temporary migrants to look up their work rights online.

It said employees who reported allegations of exploitation could be assured it would not affect their visa status.

The Australian government has been contacted for comment.


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