OUT OF POCKET: A report has revealed systemic wage theft amongst migrant workers.
OUT OF POCKET: A report has revealed systemic wage theft amongst migrant workers. Contributed

Report reveals migrant workers stay silent on wage theft

A REPORT has painted a damning picture of systemic wage theft amongst migrant workers, with the scale of unclaimed wages likely to be well over $1 billion.

The report, Wage Theft in Silence released today by the UNSW and UTS, has identified that fewer than one in 10 migrant workers took action to recover underpaid wages, noting that for every 100 underpaid migrant workers only three went to the Fair Work Ombudsman and well over half recovered nothing.

The reason for the workers' inaction isn't poor English or a lack of familiarity with the Western legal culture, the report's authors say. Rather, the risks to a worker's employment or immigration status and the amount of time and effort required outweigh the low likelihood of success.

Just three per cent of more than 2250 workers surveyed said they had contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman and, of those, three in five recovered nothing.

A previous report by the same authors suggested one in three international students and backpackers earned about half the legal minimum wage.

"The system is broken," UTS senior law lecturer Laurie Berg, the report's co-author, said in a statement.

The report calls for a legislated firewall to be established between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Home Affairs to prevent the two agencies sharing information about potential visa contraventions when migrant workers seek help for wage theft.

"Against a culture of impunity, predicated on employers' assumptions that migrant workers will remain silent, these mechanisms are critical to detecting wage theft and holding employers accountable," the report said.

It also recommends that states should establish greater accountability by introducing criminal offences for employers that knowingly and repeatedly engage in wage theft.