1 July 2020

Bassina Farbenblum (UNSW) and Laurie Berg (UTS) have produced a significant report for the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative, outlining the serious and ongoing exploitation of visa workers in Australia: “A half (49%) were paid below the basic statutory minimum wage. Over three quarters (77%) were paid below the minimum casual hourly wage. … Over a quarter (26%) of all respondents earned $12 or less per hour in their lowest paid job (approximately half of the minimum wage for a casual employee). … This figure has remained static despite increases in the statutory minimum wages since 2016, the introduction of legislative protections for vulnerable workers, and an increased focus on international students by the Fair Work Ombudsman.” Berg emphasised the additional vulnerability caused by their immigration status: “They suffered in silence, often because of visa concerns or fear of job loss. Our findings confirm many who complained were in fact sacked. Their visa concerns are also valid — there’s nothing to stop the labour regulator sharing information with immigration authorities if a student has worked more hours than her visa allows.” The pandemic has made visa workers even more precarious and vulnerable to exploitation — but the already useless FWO has used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to stop conducting investigations, rejecting a call for help with this justification: “In this current COVID climate, I cannot conduct site visits or interviews.”