Wage theft – The shadow market empowering migrant workers to enforce their rights

Three years ago, Unions NSW, in partnership with the Immigration Advice and Rights Center (IARC), established Visa Assist, a migrant resource centre. Visa Assist advocates and assists migrant workers by providing free legal support for immigration and employment matters.

This report is the culmination of 18 months of research and provides the latest large-scale national data on migrant worker exploitation post-Covid 19 and its ensuing labour shortages. Over 7,000 job ads were reviewed, across more than ten industries, in primarily five languages: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Spanish and Portuguese. Additionally, over 1,000 migrant workers shared their experiences when working or applying for work in Australia.

The audit also assessed the impact of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to modify the Horticulture Award, which established a ‘minimum wage guarantee’ for piece rate workers. In the horticulture industry specifically, more than 1,000 job ads were reviewed, 223 employers were audited, and over 200 workers were surveyed.

Unions NSW research demonstrates that the exploitation of migrant workers in Australia is endemic and a direct result of the current visa system that makes workers reliant on their employers due to the precarious nature of their visa status. It is only through the development of a regime that promotes compliance by empowering migrants to report employers’ exploitation without consequences to their visa status that migrant workers will be effectively protected from workplace exploitation.