Study shows one in three backpackers and international students are paid half the legal minimum wage – again!

November 22nd, 2017 | | jobs

Written by Abbie O’Brien of SBS

A new report has found one in three international students and backpackers in Australia are being paid about half the legal minimum wage. It described the job exploitation of this group of workers in Australia as ‘endemic and severe’. Belgian backpacker Laurent Van Eesbeeck has spent four months working as a fruit picker on eight different farms across Queensland. Some of his experiences were pleasant, he said.

About 42 cents of every dollar on average spent at a small business is reinvested back into the local community, new research shows. But Mr Van Eesbeeck amounts others to a form of “modern slavery”, telling he worked in extreme conditions while consistently being underpaid. “I remember on a cherry tomato farm, I was completely bullied by the supervisor and I was completely underpaid,” he said. “I think my first job, I got $10 for two or three hours of work. When I went picking strawberries, I think I averaged $60-a-day before tax for eight hours of hard work under the sun.”

Laurent’s experience is far from isolated, according to new report Wage Theft in Australia that reveals the extent of the exploitation of temporary migrants. The joint study from the University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney surveyed more than 4000 temporary migrants from 107 countries – with 2392 of those international students and 1440 backpackers. Report co-author and UTS Law professor Laurie Berg told SBS News it was the first study of its kind in Australia. “To this point, we haven’t known how far the exploitation goes,” she said. “So our survey presents the first hard data that shows that we have a hidden underclass of temporary migrants in this country. “And they are made up of international students and backpackers who are earning well under the minimum wage.”

The national minimum wage is $18.29 per hour but the study found a third of backpackers earn $12 per hour or less, while a quarter of all international students earn $12 or less. It found almost half of backpackers make $15 or less in their lowest paid job, and it’s a similar statistic for international students, at 43 per cent. Professor Berg says the exploitation is not limited to the farming industry. “Underpayment was widespread across 12 different industries. It was particularly prevalent in food services, so restaurants cafes take away stores,” she told SBS News.

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And yes this news does make it to our source markets and just make it harder to attract 417 and 462 applicants BBC and USA Today

One Response

  1. John George says:

    Ok, so I haven’t read the report but I have done a word search and find no reference to ‘piece work’ anywhere. Only references to work and lowest paid job. Since a lot of horticultural work is paid on a piece work basis, and accepting that many, but not all, unskilled workers find it hard to make money on piece work jobs then the report seems to me to leave out this qualifying criteria.
    In no way I am a defender of piece work rates other than understanding why they exist. I have often raised in this forum my concerns with piece rates, and again in the recent Modern Day Slavery public hearing in Mildura did the same.
    My concern is that in industries where hourly rates of pay and only hourly rates of pay are permitted there is clearly underpayment. Either the hourly rates are paid correctly or they are not.
    But to not break the findings in horticulture down into hourly and piece work rates is an oversight and misrepresents the facts and real situation. It also represents a lost opportunity by the researchers to present even more meaningful findings..
    And I will read the whole report in the next few days.