Australian Employers Are Ripping Off International Student Workers, Study Finds

Lloyd Doyle
November 21, 2017

The UNSW Sydney and UTS study found wage theft is endemic among worldwide students, backpackers and other temporary migrants, a substantial number of whom experience severe underpayment.

The Wage Theft in Australia report took responses from 4,322 temporary migrants from 107 countries working across all states and territories in Australia from September to December past year.

A comprehensive survey of 4,322 people on temporary migrant visas has detailed an alarming account of worker exploitation.

The survey also found that workers from Asian countries including China, Taiwan and Vietnam were paid less than workers from North America, Ireland and the UK. (Shocking, we know). nearly one in seven participants earned $5 per hour of less, and nearly a third earned $10 per hour or less.

One in three backpackers and worldwide students are paid half the legal minimum wage amid widespread "wage theft" that extends beyond fruit picking and farm work, a study shows.

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

Those who were on jobs paying from $6 to $12 per hour said they found the job more often by contacting the employer directly (24%) or via a friend or family member (23%) than through advertisements.

In September the Federal Government passed the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017, aimed at protecting workers from unscrupulous employers by boosting fines for serious breaches of workplace laws and catch employers who force staff to pay back their wages in cash. The report authors noted that this was already reported to be a common practice in 7-Eleven stores, but appears to be much more wide-spread with other industries than previously thought.


A small percentage have been made to pay up-front "deposits" to secure a job in Australia or return cash to their employer after being paid, while others have had passports confiscated by employers.

More than half (55%) of those surveyed said they were worldwide students, while 33% said they were working holiday visa holders.

Nearly a third of survey participants earned $12 per hour or less, while nearly half earned $15 per hour or less - significantly less than the $22.13 legal minimum wage during the time the survey was conducted. "For nearly 40 percent of students and backpackers, their lowest paid job was in a cafe, restaurant or takeaway", Berg said.

'Our broken laws not only facilitate the theft of wages, they have facilitated big businesses importing what amounts to a slave labour class of workers on temporary visas, ' Ms Kearney said.

Anonymous, online survey of 4,322 people who had worked in Australia on a temporary visa.

2,392 respondents were global students; 1,705 were enrolled at a university and 523 at a vocational or English-language college.

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

"It provides compelling evidence for expanded services that respond to temporary migrants' experiences, as shared directly by them", Farbenblum said.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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