Rise in underpayments on overseas workers on ‘backpacking’ visas

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Rise in underpayments on overseas workers on ‘backpacking’ visas

Rise in underpayments on overseas workers on ‘backpacking’ visas

Some Australian employers are deliberately flouting their legal obligations so they can keep wages low for students, working holiday visas and refugees, that's according to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) who've been investigating the problem. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman is an independent statutory office which was established in Australia to protect the employee and ensure that employers adhere to certain guidelines and compliance with regards to workplace laws.

People can anonymously report what they believe may be workplace breaches. In just over a year, the Fair Work Ombudsman has received more than 10,000 tips offs, with 15% coming from visa holders.

Fair Work Ombudsman highlights vulnerable workers

The Fair Work Ombudsman says it's limited with what it can do with those employers who deliberately ignore workplace laws as financial penalties are not very harsh.  Fines are low which means they’re prepared to risk being non-compliant.

They want to see more of a deterrent established for employers so vulnerable workers such as those on visas will not be exploited.

Introduction of ‘Record My Hours’ app

Recently the Fair Work Ombudsman launched an app to help people maintain a record of working hours. This app uses technology like Google maps to identify the whereabouts of an individual and track their hours on the job.  An employee can enter the address of their workplace and the boundaries of that setting so that when they are in that area, the app will start recording shift hours. 

The app’s been criticised by farming groups who claim they should have been consulted about the proposals. The National Farmers’ Federation even went as far as to say that it was akin to encouraging employees to spy on their employer.

Recent cases

The Fair Work Ombudsman has highlighted many recent cases where employers have flouted regulations claiming some migrant workers' pay is as little as $10 or less per hour, which is below the $17.70 minimum wage.

A recent national inquiry was launched in response to escalating complaints.  Those on a Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) are required to do 88 days of specified, regional paid work to qualify for a second-year visa, but they are the ones most at risk from unscrupulous operators.  

In one investigation, the employment of 4000 visa workers on the 417 backpacker visa program was scrutinised. Unacceptable levels of abuse were uncovered with one in three foreign workers on a 417 visa not receiving legal minimum pay and being subjected to harassment and health and safety violations.

A lack of basic records of hours worked by employees meant that the FWO was only able to calculate the right pay entitlements of six out of 265 employees at HTA Farmings. They were all overseas workers who were employed to pick and pack strawberries at a Caboolture strawberry farm in South East Queensland.

Many of the employees were overseas workers from Asian countries and were in Australia on a Working Holiday visas (subclass 417). The company also contravened pay slip laws. The Fair Work Ombudsman are pressing for a comprehensive government effort to ensure visa holders are better protected and more aware of their work rights. 

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