Ever since the 7-Eleven migrant worker scandal broke in 2015, there has been a regular flow of stories emerging about the systemic abuse of Australia’s various migrant worker programs.
The issue was highlighted in all of its hideous glory when the Senate Education and Employment References Committee released a scathing report entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, which documented the abuses of Australia’s visa system for foreign workers.
Despite this Senate report being released last year, there has so far been minimal action from the federal government, with widespread rorting of Australia’s visa program continuing unabated.
As reported in Fairfax in August, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James revealed that people on visas continue to be exploited at an alarming rate, particularly those with limited English-language skills.
Today, three separate articles relating to exploitation have been reported by Australia’s press.
The first article involves Dominos Pizza, which is currently under investigation for wages fraud. As reported by Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson, a Fair Work Commission (FWC) hearing is scheduled for 1 November regarding an application to terminate existing enterprise agreements for Domino’s Pizza Enterprises staff, which has left workers short-changed:
Pizza giant Domino’s Enterprises, its network of franchisees, unions and thousands of workers will be itching for the outcome of a Fair Work Commission hearing that relates to more than 26 applications by two unions to terminate various enterprise agreements.
If the agreements are terminated, workers will be put on a modern award – the wages safety net – which would make them instantly better off…
Franchisees are already on high alert as the Fair Work Ombudsman conducts an investigation of the network after allegations of systemic wage fraud…
At the investor briefing Meij said $1.25 million in underpaid wages has been recovered after completing 322 store audits. Over the past few years less than $6 million of wages has been repaid to workers…
From a personal perspective I continue to receive a steady stream of emails and calls from workers, former workers and franchisees contacting me about tough conditions and underpayment issues. In one case a delivery driver said he was working at least 30 minutes before and after each shift for no money.
The second article, by Fairfax’s Sarah Danckert, discusses a three-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which found that trolley collectors at Woolworths stores have been paid significantly below the hourly wage rate since 2014. It also notes that Coles was embroiled in similar revelations in 2014 regarding underpayment by contractors:
Woolworths will pick up the tab for underpaid trolley collectors where the contractor responsible for ripping off the workers has gone under or disappeared after an investigation found rampant exploitation of workers.
Woolworths agreed to assist in the back pay of its contracted trolley collectors stretching back to July 2014 under a compliance deed it has signed with the workplace regulator.
…a three-year inquiry by the regulator found trolley collectors at Woolworths supermarkets were being paid as little as $10 an hour despite casual rates for that work being $22.51 in 2014.
Under the deed, Woolworths will back-pay any trolley collector employed during the period from July 1, 2014 until the present if the primary contractor has failed to rectify wages within 20 days…
In 2016, a FWO inquiry found contractors at a staggering 79 per cent of the 130 Woolworths stores visited by the regulator in 2015 were in violation of workplace laws…
The third article comes from The AFR’s David Marin-Guzman, who reports that the owner of a Zarraffa’s Coffee franchise in Queensland could face prosecution after the FWC approved an enterprise agreement based a false statutory declaration, resulting in staff being short-changed:
The Fair Work Commission has referred a coffee franchisee’s owners to the federal police for allegedly lying about an enterprise agreement that traded away penalty rates.
The full bench found that the owners of Zarraffa’s Coffee in West Ipswich, Queensland, provided false statutory declarations claiming a majority of staff had voted up its trade off of penalty rates when it did not have any staff and had not even opened its store.
The statutory declarations, which also falsely claimed the deal left workers better off than the award despite leaving part-timers and casuals $40 a week worse off, resulted in the commission approving the agreement late last year…
That’s three separate articles relating to worker exploitation in just one day, which again highlights just how systemic the exploitation of workers is across Australia.
The sad reality is that there are now entire business lines, firms and sectors whose business models rely heavily on the systematic undermining of wages and, worse, running virtual slave labour.
We have seen this in fast food, convenience stores, agriculture, building, accounting, IT, engineering, education, transport, the gig economy and no doubt it is even more widespread.
Back in November, Fairfax reported that foreign workers are involved in more than three-quarters of legal cases initiated by the Fair Work Ombudsman against unscrupulous employers.
How many more examples do we need before our politicians take action and close down the various avenues to exploitation? They cannot credibly bemoan Australia’s record low wages growth while ignoring the systemic undermining of Australian workers.