Workplace exploitation of backpackers in Australia is endemic and severe with one in three paid half the legal minimum wage, a landmark university study has found.
The Wage Theft in Australia report surveyed 4,322 temporary migrants from 107 countries in all states and territories and paints a bleak but much-needed national picture of the extent of wage theft among international students and backpackers in Australia, and how it varies across different nationalities.
Author Bassina Farbenblum, a UNSW Sydney senior law lecturer, found the overwhelming majority of international students and backpackers knew they were being underpaid.
“However, they believe few people on their visa expect to receive the legal minimum wage,” Farbenblum said.
The study found 86 per cent of international students and backpackers earning up to $15 per hour believe that many, most or all other people on their visa are paid less than the basic national minimum wage.
Co-author Laurie Berg, a UTS senior law lecturer, said wage theft is not confined to fruit and vegetable picking or convenience stores, nor is it confined to any nationalities.
“A fifth of every nationality was paid around half the legal minimum wage. For almost 40 per cent of students and backpackers, their lowest paid job was in a cafe, restaurant or takeaway,” Berg said.
Berg says the study also shows international students and backpackers encounter conditions that may constitute criminal forced labour.
In 91 cases, respondents had had their passports confiscated by employers, 173 respondents were required to pay upfront “deposits” of up to $1000 to secure a job in Australia and 112 respondents had been asked to pay money back to their employer in cash after receiving their wages.
The study also found 44 per cent of overseas workers are paid in cash, including two in three waiters, kitchen-hands and food servers. Half never or rarely receive a payslip.