Most foreign employees paid below award rates

A new study has found widespread migrant underpayment and wage theft in Australia

Most foreign employees paid below award rates

A two-year audit of local job advertisements on Chinese, Korean and Spanish websites has found almost 80% of proposed rates were under the Australian minimum award wage, according to a new report titled Lighting up the black market: Enforcing minimum wages.

Separate audits in 2016 and 2017 examined 200 jobs, with 78% advertising pay rates below the award minimum.

Moreover, the 2017 audit of Mandarin and Cantonese job advertisements found 100% of rates offered below Award rates.

The study found hospitality was a particularly bad offender. The average rate of pay advertised was $13.60 an hour, while the 2017-18 Award minimum for an introductory level worker on the Restaurant Industry Award is $18.29 per hour, according to the audit by Unions NSW.

For the 200 jobs audited, the survey found a total annual underpayment of $1.62 million, equating to $8,000 per business per year or $31,100 per week.

HRD contacted the Minister for Employment office for comment and a spokesperson for Michaelia Cash said the Turnbull Government will not tolerate exploitation of workers in any shape or form.

"This is why the government introduced and passed Vulnerable Workers legislation through the House of Representatives, which will be debated in the Senate when Parliament resumes next month, to protect workers and impose heavy penalties on employers who deliberately and systematically underpay them," said the spokesperson.

“The Government set up the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce and provided an extra $20.1 million to support the investigation and enforcement work of the Fair Work Ombudsman to stamp out exploitative behaviour.

“The Taskforce was established to identify further proposals for improvements in law, law enforcement and investigation, or other practical measures to more quickly identify and rectify any cases of migrant worker exploitation. The Taskforce will consider any further changes in this context.

“The Productivity Commission considered the exploitation of migrant workers in its inquiry into the workplace relations laws and did not recommend changes to union entry to investigate breaches of workplace laws. Rather, it made a number of recommendations to enhance the enforcement powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman. The government is responding to a number of these recommendations with our Vulnerable Workers legislation.”

Unions NSW is demanding greater powers under the Fair Work Act to inspect businesses' wage books if they're suspected of exploiting workers.

Unions NSW also argues there should be powers given back to unions to be able to inspect wage books where they can demonstrate systematic wage theft happening.

Moreover, Mark Morey, Unions NSW Secretary, said this is wage theft “on a massive scale. And it's being perpetrated against people ill-equipped to fight back”.

"Migrants often know they are being ripped off but lack the language skills, confidence and support to stand up for their rights,” said Morey.

“Often migrant workers are threatened, or must consider how a complaint will affect their visa or residency status.”

Morey added that the union intends to keep shining a bright light on this problem while taking action against wage theft employers.

"Our research finds that some employers believe they can offer a 'Korean' 'Chinese' or 'Spanish' rate of pay,” he said.

“Your pay rate is not determined by passport or ethnicity. We are all entitled to Australian standards.

"Allowing unions better access to dodgy workplaces would empower workers to stand up for their rights as would criminal sanctions against wage thieves. These are both measures that should be adopted by Commonwealth and NSW governments.”


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