Foreign students and backpackers being underpaid in Australia

by Ray Clancy on February 11, 2019

in Jobs in Australia

Foreign students and backpackers in Australia are again being warned to speak out if they have jobs where they feel they are being underpaid or exploited after a café was penalised $257,000.

The 24 hour Café Baci in Melbourne was fined by a court after it was found that 54 workers were underpaid, including 25 from overseas, including French, Italian and Indian students and working holiday makers.

Underpaid Worker

(By Leroy Harvey/Shutterstock.com)

The penalties came after the Fair Work Ombudsman took legal action in the Federal Circuit Court against owner Len Di Pietro and Ital One Holdings, after it was found that there were infringements relating to pay, overtime rates, casual loadings, and penalty rates for weekend, public holiday, late night and early morning work.

One visa holder was aged just 19 at the time of the underpayments where the students and working holiday makers worked as waiters, kitchen hands, chefs and in other roles.

‘All workers in Australia have the same rights at work, regardless of citizenship, and we will continue to take businesses who underpay migrant workers to court,’ said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

She explained that students and working holiday makers, along with other overseas workers, should not be influenced by suggestions that if they speak up their visas will be void. ‘We have an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs where visa holders can contact us for help without fear of their visa being cancelled,’ said Parker.

The court heard that the company had broken workplace laws in substantially similar ways on three previous occasions in the recent past. ‘It is incumbent on anyone running a business, no matter how busy it is or how many staff it has, to ascertain the correct rates of pay for employees and have systems in place to ensure that the correct rates of pay are paid,’ said Judge Heather Riley.

Meanwhile, the FWO had also begun legal action against the operators of three Hero Sushi takeaway outlets in Canberra, Gold Coast and Newcastle, for allegedly underpaying 94 workers by $694,628 and allegedly creating false records to provide to Fair Work Inspectors during their investigation.

Many of the workers were young overseas workers, including Korean and Japanese nationals on international student and working holiday visas. Parker said the large number of employees allegedly underpaid in this matter was alarming and very serious conduct.

‘The FWO considers all allegations of worker exploitation seriously, particularly matters involving migrant workers who may have little understanding of their workplace rights or how to seek help. Employers who deliberately contravene Australia’s workplace laws will be found out and could face legal action and significant financial penalties from the Court,’ she pointed out.

‘The FWO urges overseas workers who are concerned about their wages or entitlements to contact us. All workers in Australia have the same rights at work, regardless of citizenship or visa status,’ she added.

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