The Fair Work Ombudsman in Australia is asking students, backpackers and other visa holders undertaking causal work in the coming year not to be afraid to speak out if they are underpaid.

It has been active in 2018 in securing penalties against employers who deliberately take advantage of overseas workers. Going into 2019 the FWI is going to be prioritising young workers.


'Employers should note that we are prioritising matters involving requests for assistance from young workers as they can be particularly vulnerable in the workplace and reluctant to complain. We encourage any workers with concerns about their wages or entitlements to contact us,' said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

The cases this year include a carwash café owner on the gold Coast who was fined $70,000 for requiring an overseas worker to pay back over $21,000 of her wages and underpaying dozens of other workers.

The workers were underpaid amounts ranging from $82 to $6,329, with 26 of them underpaid more than $2,000. A Court has ordered the owners to rectify all outstanding underpayments in full.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker pointed out that this kind of conduct is completely unacceptable and designed to exploit employees, including visa holders, who can be particularly vulnerable.

'Any employer who tries to profit from underpaying migrant workers should take note that we will act to ensure such conduct is met with serious consequences. All workers in Australia have the same rights and protections at work, regardless of citizenship or visa status,' she said.

'The largest underpayment in the case related to the overseas worker who was underpaid through a cash-back scheme. The worker is a Korean national who was in Australia on a 457 skilled worker sponsored visa,' she explained.

'Workers who are asked to pay wages back to their employers should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance. Any businesses who unlawfully ask for money back from their employees will face enforcement action,' she added.

In another case a catering company in regional New South Wales underpaid workers, including cooks and waiters, including a teenager, aged 17, and three aged in their early 20s.

Most of the underpayments were the result of casual employees being paid flat rates of $20 an hour and $10 an hour to a part-time employee, paid below apprentice rates despite not being correctly registered as an apprentice. The flat rates were not sufficient to cover the minimum hourly rates and weekend penalty rates the casual employees were entitled to at the time under the Registered and Licensed Clubs Award.

It is also graduates who stay on after studying who can suffer. A multinational education company is making major changes to its workplace practices after the Fair Work Ombudsman discovered the underpayment of two Chinese graduates on 485 temporary graduate visas in its Melbourne CBD branch.