Foreign students, backpackers face 'endemic wage theft in Australia'

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SYDNEY International students and backpackers working in Australia are subjected to "systemic wage theft", with about a third paid half the minimum wage and those from Asia the worst-hit, a study found yesterday.

There are more than 900,000 temporary migrants such as foreign students in Australia, making up about 11 per cent of the labour market.

Yet 30 per cent of the 4,322 temporary migrants surveyed said they were paid about half the legal minimum wage for casual workers of A$22.13 an hour (S$22.73). Almost half earned A$15 per hour or less, the report added.

The survey, done late last year, covered 107 nationalities and was conducted online in 13 languages.

"One of the really striking findings was that 86 per cent of international students and backpackers... perceive that everybody on their visa is being underpaid," the study's co-author Bassina Farbenblum of the University of New South Wales told AFP.


"So there's no point them leaving the job that they are in because they see that there is very little chance of them getting a better job."

The study, conducted with the University of Technology Sydney, showed that "wage theft is endemic" and also "widespread across numerous industries". It was prevalent in food services and "especially severe" in fruit-and-vegetable picking.

Employment minister Michaelia Cash responded to the report by urging youths who felt they were underpaid to contact the government's Fair Work Ombudsman.

While at least one-fifth of those surveyed from every nationality experienced "extremely poor" wage rates of A$12 per hour or less, visitors from Asia were the most affected.

Around three-quarters of Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese participants earned A$17 per hour or less, compared with 35 to 41 per cent of American, Irish and British participants, the report said. - AFP