Vietnamese backpackers, students getting ripped off for casual labor in Australia: survey

By Reuters, VnExpress   November 21, 2017 | 04:08 pm GMT+7

From fruit pickers to dish washers, most workers know they are earning way below the minimum wage.

Backpackers and international students including many from Vietnam are getting a raw deal in casual jobs in Australia, a survey found, confirming a long-held suspicion that employers are severely underpaying workers who account for a 10th of all jobs in the country.

Most of the workers, employed as anything from fruit pickers to dish washers, knew they were earning well below Australia’s minimum wage, the online survey of more than 4,000 people in 12 industries showed on Tuesday.

The people were on working-holiday or student visas and accounted for 11 percent of Australian jobs, mostly in restaurants and takeaways, petrol stations, car washes, farms, meatpacking, taxi-driving, factories, cleaning and child care.

“The study reveals that Australia has a large, silent under-class of migrant workers that are paid well below the minimum wage,” said Bassina Farbenblum, a senior law lecturer at the University of New South Wales, who ran the survey with researchers at the University of Technology Sydney.

The survey found that workers from Vietnam, as well as China and Taiwan, were paid less than workers from North America, Ireland and the U.K. Vietnamese accounted for 4 percent of the 480,092 international students enrolled in Australia in March 2017, according to statistics released by Australia’s Department of Education and Training in May.

“There’s been a common misconception that they’re underpaid because they simply don’t know Australian labor laws, and that’s really not the case at all,” Farbenblum said.


Foreign workers pick tomatoes on a farm in Australia. Photo by Reuters

Fruit and vegetable pickers were the worst paid. Growers rely on young people on working-holiday visas, who in turn can extend their visas to stay for a second year if they complete three months of work in the rural industry.

Around a third of fruit and vegetable pickers were paid A$10 ($7.54) an hour or less, and one out of seven were paid A$5 an hour or less, which was less than a quarter of the minimum wage for casual jobs at the time.

“It’s really incredibly egregious,” Farbenblum told Reuters.

The survey drew attention to the widespread nature of the problem in the wake of wage scandals involving 7-Eleven and Caltex Australia (CTX.AX) in the past two years which led the government to step up fines for employers who underpay staff.

It also comes amid broader concerns among policy makers about Australia’s tepid wages, with latest figures showing annual pay rates grew at a slow 2 percent in the third quarter.

In the minutes of its latest policy meeting, the Reserve Bank of Australia warned of “considerable uncertainty” about how quickly wage growth and inflation might pick up.

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