Published: Tue, November 21, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Australian Employers Are Ripping Off International Student Workers, Study Finds

The report is a study of wage theft and working conditions among global students, backpackers and other temporary migrants in Australia and draws on responses from more than 4,300 temporary migrants across 107 nationalities of every region in the world, working in a range of jobs in all states and territories.

"Temporary migrants comprise of up to 11 percent of the Australian labour market", said the study's authors, a joint force between UNSW Law and UTS. "Despite the prominence of migrant worker exploitation in the media, there has been limited empirical data on the overall nature and extent of wage theft among worldwide students and backpackers in Australia".

The report found that despite a legal minimum wage for casual workers of $22.13 per hour at the time of the survey, a quarter of all global students earn $12 per hour or less, while 43% reported earning $15 or less in their lowest-paying job.

Nearly one in seven participants working in fruit-and-vegetable picking and farm work (15pc) earned $5 (€3.23) per hour or less.

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.

The fruit-picking industry actually emerged as providing the lowest paid jobs altogether. Nearly a third (31pc) earned $10 (€6.46) per hour or less.

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. 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.

Worldwide students, backpackers and other temporary migrants also experienced other indicators of exploitation and criminal forced labour with many reporting they had their passport confiscated by their employer or their accommodation provider.

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

Each year hundreds of thousands of come to Australia on working holiday visas, which allow some visitors to stay for a second year if they work for 88 days on a farm.

"We found the overwhelming majority of worldwide students and backpackers are aware they are being underpaid". "However, they believe few people on their visa expect to receive the legal minimum wage".

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