Working the system

• Satnam Singh has taken a former employer to court, alleging they took advantage of his migrant status to underpay him.

UNDERPAYMENT by 7-Eleven franchisees to its employees has revealed widespread workplace exploitation of temporary migrant and working holiday visa holders in Australia.

A new report by the Migrant Workers Taskforce has twenty-two recommendations to improve the protection of vulnerable visa workers, including criminal sanctions for serious cases of worker exploitation and educating Australian employers about the rights of migrant workers.

Short-term migration contributes $34.9 billion to the country’s education sector, making it Australia’s fourth largest export industry in 2018.


Data from 2016 shows that working holiday visa holders contributed $3.3 billion in tourist spending across the country.

Graham McCorry, an industrial and workplace relations consultant with Labourline, welcomed the findings of the taskforce report, but says the recommendations will fall flat unless they are enforced.

“The problems are not with exploitation; it’s with the enforcement,” says Mr McCorry.

“Unless you have every second person in the government enforcing the law, it’s just too big a problem.”

Mr McCorry is currently advising a former worker from a Fremantle cafe who has filed a case with the industrial magistrates court against the restaurant.

The worker, on an 857 visa, is alleging underpaid wages and discrimination in the workplace.

Australia’s complex National Employment Standards means fighting a legal battle can be incredibly long and complicated, even for native-English speaking Australians.

Mr McCorry’s role in the case started in April last year, and is scheduled to finally go to trial this month.

“It takes too long, and you won’t be able to do it on your own,” says Mr McCorry.

“That means you’re going to need a lawyer or somebody who’s entitled to practise in the courts and knows what they are doing.

“Only a lawyer would be able to translate the wording and explain your rights.”

The Taskforce report states that temporary migrant workers may be more likely to face exploitation due to “limited English language skills, lack of awareness of Australian workplace laws and fear of visa cancellation, detention and removal from Australia.”

Mr McCorry has advice for workers to better protect themselves: “Firstly, document everything,” says Mr McCorry.


“Collect evidence to avoid the ‘I said, he said’ five or six years down the track.

“We’ve got [the Employment Law Center of WA] where people could go and pay $25 or so and get advice on what they are entitled to, and what they are not. It’s funded by the government.”


Protecting your rights
• Ask for a Fair Work Information Statement when you start a new job
• Keep your own records of hours worked and wages received
• Record the name and ABN of the business you work for
• Ask for offers and conditions of employment in writing
• You are entitled to receive a pay slip within one day of being paid
• You can ask your boss about minimum wages and entitlements – or you can check with the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 19 94

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