work exploitation australia

Working holiday makers on 417 visas have been vulnerable to exploitation in a range of industries. In 2016 the Fair Work Ombudsman released the findings of an inquiry into the experiences of 417 visa-holders and found significant numbers of workers felt they had been taken advantage of by their employers. This was particularly prevalent for travellers undertaking their 88 days of rural work in order to get a second-year visa.

The inquiry also found that many workers have been reluctant to report underpayment, unsafe work conditions and sexual harassment out of fear their employers will refuse to provide the Employment Verification Form necessary to prove the 88 days of work.

These questions address many of the misconceptions about the rights of workers on working visas.

Do Australian citizens have different workplace entitlements to 417 visa-holders?

No. All visa-holders have the same rights as all Australian workers. They’re entitled to the same protection against exploitation and to all the same entitlements regarding minimum wage, penalty rates and superannuation.

What is the minimum wage?

For adult workers (aged 21 and over), the minimum wage is $17.70 per hour, or 672.70 per week for full-time work, before tax. Junior workers have a lower minimum wage; $17.29 for 20 year-olds. $14.60 for 19 year-olds and 12.09 for 18 year-olds.

Can employees be asked to undertake training or work duties without pay?

No. Employers must pay employees for all the time spent on work duties. This includes training, attending morning briefings or opening and closing a shop.

Can an employer deduct money from wages?

An employer can only deduct money if it is for the benefit of the employee, and if it has been agreed to in writing. Pay cannot be deducted for breakages or for shortages in a shop till, as those deductions would not benefit the employee. Demanding visa-holders make up-front payments for equipment or accommodation is also unlawful.

Can an employer withhold an employee’s passport?

To confirm someone can legally work in Australia, an employer can ask permission to see an employee’s passport. They are not allowed to keep the passport. Employers also have no power to cancel a work visa. Only the Department of Immigration and Border Protection have that power.

Are working holiday-makers classified as employees or contractors?

For the majority of work that working holiday makers seek (hospitality, retail, admin, labouring, rural work) they are employees, not contractors. Some employers have been known to use complex ‘sham contracting’ arrangements to disguise employment situations in order to pay less than the minimum wage. This is illegal.

Are payslips necessary?

Yes. It’s a legal requirement that all employees be given payslips (either paper or email) within one day of payday.

Where can employees seek help if they suspect they’re being exploited?

The Fair Work Ombudsman is responsible for ensuring all employees in Australia are employed under fair and legal conditions. The website fairwork.gov.au has a lot of valuable information, and they have an info line: 13 13 94

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