Australia’s migrant slave economy hidden in plain sight

By Leith van Onselen

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 and visa system.

Here is a sordid summary of what has occurred, as documented on this site:

  • The issue culminated in 2016 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 systemic abuses of Australia’s temporary visa system for foreign workers.
  • Mid last year, ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a disturbing expose on the modern day slavery occurring across Australia.
  • Meanwhile, Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Natalie James, told Fairfax in August last year that people on visas continue to be exploited at an alarming rate, particularly those with limited English-language skills. It was also revealed that foreign workers are involved in more than three-quarters of legal cases initiated by the FWO against unscrupulous employers.
  • Then The ABC reported that Australia’s horticulture industry is at the centre of yet another migrant slave scandal, according to an Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the issue.
  • The same Parliamentary Inquiry was told by an undercover Malaysian journalist that foreign workers in Victoria were “brainwashed” and trapped in debt to keep them on farms.
  • A recent UNSW Sydney and UTS survey painted the most damning picture of all, reporting that wages theft is endemic among international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants.
  • Last month, Fair Work warned that most of Western Sydney had become a virtual special economic zone in which two-thirds of businesses were underpaying workers, with the worst offenders being high-migrant areas.
  • Dr Bob Birrell from the Australian Population Research Institute latest report, based on 2016 Census data, revealed that most recently arrived skilled migrants (i.e. arrived between 2011 and 2016) cannot find professional jobs, with only 24% of skilled migrants from Non-English-Speaking-Countries (who comprise 84% of the total skilled migrant intake) employed as professionals as of 2016, compared with 50% of skilled migrants from Main English-Speaking-Countries and 58% of the same aged Australian-born graduates. These results accord with a recent survey from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, which found that 53% of skilled migrants in Western Australia said they are working in lower skilled jobs than before they arrived, with underemployment also rife.
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) latest Characteristics of Recent Migrants report, revealed that migrants have generally worse labour market outcomes than the Australian born population, with recent migrants and temporary residents having an unemployment rate of 7.4% versus 5.4% for the Australian born population, and lower labour force participation (69.8%) than the Australian born population (70.2%).
  • ABC Radio recently highlighted the absurdity of Australia’s ‘skilled’ migration program in which skilled migrants have grown increasingly frustrated at not being able to gain work in Australia despite leaving their homelands to fill so-called ‘skills shortages’. As a result, they are now demanding that taxpayers provide government-sponsored internships to help skilled migrants gain local experience, and a chance to work in their chosen field.
  • Then there is new research from the University of Sydney documenting the complete corruption of the temporary visas system, and arguing that Australia running a “de-facto low-skilled immigration policy” (also discussed here at the ABC).

The above bullet points are only a fraction of the various cases of migrant abuse that MB has documented. But you get the picture.

With this background in mind, it was disappointing to read more cases of migrant abuse and wage theft yesterday.

The first case involved a Chinese hotelier operating in Tasmania who was fined more than $200,000 by the Federal Circuit Court for underpaying a Malaysian couple he sponsored in Australia on a skilled chef’s visa by more than $28,000. From The AFR [my emphasis]:

Judge Baker accepted that Mr Chang kept referring to the couple he had sponsored as “family”, to put pressure on them to work hard for him…

[The case] highlighted the “uncomfortable truth” of migrant worker exploitation in Australia, according to Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

Judge Baker found that Chang “decided to recruit employees from Malaysia, in part because he knew a Malaysian would accept working six days a week and he knew that it was usual in Malaysia to work six or seven days”…

The Malaysian couple told the Fair Work Ombudsman they had been reluctant to complain about the way they were treated because they were worried it would affect their visas and applications for permanent residency…

The second case involves a cleaning company that was busted by the FWO underpaying overseas workers at the MCG:

A team of six Fair Work inspectors made a surprise visit to the MCG after the AFL preliminary final between Hawthorn and Port Adelaide in September 2014 and spoke to about 44 cleaners from 9pm to just after midnight.

The Federal Circuit Court fined ISS Facility Services Australia Limited after the Fair Work Ombudsman discovered 11 overseas workers were underpaid $37,471 for cleaning work at the MCG after AFL matches in 2014…

Most of the workers were international students from India, the Philippines, Colombia and Brazil.

Both cases highlight the migrant slave economy that Australia is running – one where temporary migrants work as indentured slaves in a bid to gain permanent residency.

It makes a mockery of the common claim that Australia’s immigration program is “skilled”. The reality is the opposite, as revealed by the University of Sydney’s research revealing a “de-facto low-skilled immigration policy” across Australia (last bullet point above).

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced plans to impose jail terms of up to 10 years on employers that underpay staff. The Victorian Government will also crack down on employers that do not keep proper employee records or who do not pay staff their superannuation entitlements. The move comes as the FWO investigates a number of Melbourne food venues over allegations that they have underpaid staff.

While this is good from the Victorian Government, it is a case of treating the symptom not the cause. Unless Australia’s rorted immigration system is overhauled, the abuses will continue in earnest.

There is no governing, regulating or policing the tsunami of migrants, both temporary and permanent, that Australia is sucking. It’s not systemic corruption, it has become the system itself, as we import emerging market conditions into the Australian labour market it drives a proliferation of ever more ‘cheap labour’ businesses, while robbing developing nations of their talent.

The scam is so huge that it has lowered Australian wages and inflation plus interest rates, driving up house prices and allowing us to over-consume these very same services. It’s become a structural adjustment. And it demands root-and-branch reform, not window dressing.

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Unconventional Economist
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  1. Super Phoenix

    But, if it was not for “migrant abuse and wage theft” there would be no business case for Big Straya.

    • But they do benefit from the vibrancy of multi culturalism when then come in, which outweighs all negatives. Unless you’re some kind of rayciss.

  2. don’t worry these wankers are out to stop it

    Modern slavery refers to situations where one person has taken away another person’s freedom – their freedom to control their body, their freedom to choose to refuse certain work or to stop working – so that they can be exploited. Freedom is taken away by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power and deception.

    I’m surprised Innes Willox isn’t on the board our very own Edward Colston of slavery

  3. Worked in the M.E. for 2 yrs and found westerns were not immune from employing maids for $150 USD pm for 6 12hr days pw, justified it by claiming to pay more would upset the locals. Australians have long believed in the fair-go story, but it’s crap, we’ll abuse people as much as anyone else.

    Angers me that the political system just rolls on and more or less ignores this.

    • A few years ago some Aussies used to say “Dubai has slavery”, “that cricket team tampers with the ball”, and “other nations are corrupt”.

      The shoe is on the other foot! Ball tampering, heaps of slavery, illegal buildings as far as the eye can see.

      • If there’s one thing we’re going to be good at it is “all those things”-thing… We’re not good at much of anything else anymore but boy did we ace corruption in all positions.

        Australia – the KamaSutra of Korruption.

  4. Australia is turning into the United States. A rich country full of poor people. Slavery, human trafficking, aggressive state police force, Surveillance state. Indefensible foreign policy to benefit a few large corporates. This has not come about from without.

    It is Nietzsche says a Disability of Values.

    • No, the world is turning into the US (re rich and poor). Either you have high skills, like in-demand tech skills, or you are a resource to be exploited. You are a commodity, no more than dirt – at least that’s the harsh reality. The exception is the “exceptional class”, such as corrupt pollies or those taking advantage of corrupt pollies.

      The term slavery is not appropriate as it is implies non-consensual. Exploited workers do have the choice to leave (unlike in the ME). Exploited yes, compelled no. If you use the term slavery loosely then any PAYG employee is a slave too.

      • Yanis Varouafakis: ”None of this should surprise a reader of the manifesto. “Society as a whole,” it argues, “is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine-owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. As for the middle class, it is the dinosaur in the room, set for extinction.””

    • Cyclone Ranger

      Timing. Today of all days I find somewhere in SE Qld that is *very* unvibrant. I happen to enjoy vibrant places, so that’s not the point. My point is, I was surprised. Surprised one still existed. Surprised it was enormous (mall). (Not) surprised it was essentially empty. Surprised there were ZERO yuffs mispending their younger years in it. Amazed at that actually. Surprised people were genuinely nice here.

      One minor drawback. The place is full of wrinkly old white folks who clearly don’t get out often.

  5. As has been pointed out in the past in MB; part of this “slavery” thing is also a case of the scammers being scammed.
    In time, the migrant slave economy will (and has) spread to the general populace.
    It’s Australia’s version of America’s “working poor”.

    • Cyclone Ranger

      Not if the workers unite.

      *waves at EP*

      And councils install more lampposts…

      • Cyclone rated lamp posts are sufficient for daisy-chained purposes. Make sure that the first “customer” at the top has a good neck, strong enough to support the weight of 4 others below.

        If all fails, mobile catapults where the end is connected to a noose and the customer either is on the ground or sitting in the main seat.

        At the very worst, ghost gum-trees can leave up to their name. Decorate at will.

  6. In the last decade we took in 2 million PR/Citizen Migrants of which 85% were third world origin & in reality over 80% were no or low skill.
    In a 76% concentration in Sydney (0.8 million) or Melbourne (0.7 million).

    That flooded the market in low skill & cash in hand migrants. We are stuck with that. It is difficult to revoke PR or Citizenship grants. We can only reduce the PR intake going forward.

    But we can do something about the TR & TVI migrant intake. Immediately.
    And I would argue this is the main impact.

    We have onshore today 2.2 million Temporary Residents (TR) long stay.
    They are of 81% of third world origin (includes 203k of 610k NZ SCV as non NZ born back door), with 92% unskilled.
    Most are on pretext ‘student, visitor, bridging, sponsor etc visas.

    TVI (Tourist Visa Illegals)
    We also have 440,000 illegally working Tourist Visa Illegals (5% of 8.8 million tourist work illegally DHA/ABF).
    Almost all are third world & unskilled.

    So that’s 2.7 million long stay onshore migrant guestworkers, the majority third world and unskilled on a pretext visa.
    This is a far higher number than the PR.

    89% or 2.4 million of these TR or TV illegals are concentrated in Sydney or Melbourne.
    1.3 million live in Sydney & 1.1 million live in Melbourne. 1 in 4 people in both cities.

    This is the largest & most concentrated migrant guestworker population in the OECD. In fact it exceeds Gaddafi’s migrant guestworkers at its peak.
    This is a higher number than the PR migrants – almost double in the two cities.

    Today 1 in 6 people in Sydney or Melbourne is a PR migrant.
    But 1 in 4 is a TR or TVI migrant.

    The impact of the 2.7 million migrant TR & TV Illegals has been to decimate employment, wages, housing, education.
    For Australians & new PR/Citizens also.
    Obviously with 2.4 million of the TR / TVI in Sydney & Melbourne alone – that is the epi-centre of other impacts.

    No housing in Sydney or Melbourne was built for these 2.4 million TR or TVI migrant guestworkers.

    This massively corrupted both cities housing, the TR / TVI now occupying some 550,000 modest Ex-Australian dwellings in both cities, purchased by foreign criminal to run as migrant only cash in hand sub let bunk & mattress share.

    Both cities had a ‘housing bubble’ as the foreign criminal syndicates voraciously acquired & convert low cost modest Australian housing into migrant slum share. This has destroyed housing affordability for Australians with mortgage debt, higher rents & tens of billions of direct impact to all Australians.
    We now have 120,000 Australian homeless, some $1.4 billion further cost.

    This Temporary Visa and Tourist Visa Illegally workers – is the mainstay of foreign criminal run vice, drugs, money laundering, fraud.

    It has corrupted our education institutions (global ranking fell 10 places), as our university’s & colleges prostituted themselves in sham courses for a visa alibi, and massively increased the cost of education for Australians.

    There is widespread corruption of all the visa categories (sponsor, spousal, 457, rural extension churn, backpacker, NZ SCV, visitor, student, bridging churn).

    These 2.7 million migrant guestworkers now form a $106 billion underground foreign run blackmarket, labor racketeering, cash in hand industry onshore.

    This has destroyed wages, employment and employer investment in Australians.

    We now have 1.1 million Australian unemployed & 1.2 million seeking work. Various media & government reports confirm almost all new jobs growth, most casual low skill low income jobs btw – has ‘gone to the migrants’.

    The new arrivals on PR/ Citizenship all complain that jobs, wages, tenure are massively impacted by the 2.7 million Tr or TVI migrant guestworkers most working illegally.

    The situation is in crisis.

    All of this is quickly resolved in immediate reductions in TR & TV intake.
    And enforcement and controls.
    Just like every other country.
    Proper controls and enforcement.

    Removal of all ‘foreign student’ work rights (621,000 now on this racket) incl all who have breached visa conditions.
    – 550,000 exit.

    Removal of NZ SCV access to non NZ born (203k of 615k) This is a blatant third world migrant transfer racket.
    -200,000 exit.

    Removal of 457/Sponsor/Skilled fraud.
    -150,000 exit. We have 2.2 million unemployed or seeking work including many of the new migrant PR / citizens.

    Removal of the bridging visa sham, no work rights & apply overseas.
    -100,000 exit.

    Removal of ‘visitor & partner’ work rights.
    -300,000 exit.

    Crack down on Tourist Visa Illegals.
    -440,000 exit.

    That’s 1.74 million that can be immediately exited.

    1.5 million from Sydney or Melbourne.

    Time to call for an Royal Commission into the migrant intake – particularly into the Temporary & Tourist Visa rackets that are destroying Australia economically & socially.

    • Pull the rug out from beneath several strayan ponzis? Lol. Will never happen without the citizens marching on Canberra (armed).

  7. Additional comment.
    We do not have a skilled migrant intake.
    A cursory check on DHA/ABF shows this.
    And it matches with ABS & above (Leith / links)
    Can’t post a pie chart 🙂 here’s the numbers.

    2017 PR & special Grants.
    Skilled 128k, 107k third world primary/secondary
    Family 57k, 90% third world unskilled
    Refugee & special 16k 100% third world unskilled
    Total 202k and which 177k are third world.

    Of the skilled 128k, 107k were third world.
    Of which 57k were secondary partner/dependents
    Leaving only 51k primary skilled.
    Of which only 24% or 12k get a skilled job !

    So out of a total intake of 202k…
    177k were third world
    Only 12k of those or 6% got a skilled job.
    94% were unskilled & did not.

    Given up to third or more of the PR intake is from the TR pool onshore, mostly international students – this implies the international education industry is a completely & utter fraud & failure.

    Because despite having an ‘international student educatioo with all the fake certificates diploma’s & cheating & fraud that is endemic in this industry.
    Most can’t get a average job & very few, only a tiny fraction actually can get a highly skilled professional job.

    And as cross check : Australian Migrant Pathways A Decade On 2015.
    They proudly boast – 3.6% of Australian International Students achieved a high income professional role in their chosen vocation.
    Which means 96% do not.
    As seen in ABS, employment & other outcomes.

    => Exposing the absolute farce of Australian International Education. A migration racket of sham education for a long stay work rights visa Alibi.

    Saturated with third world unskilled urban & slum poor, criminal & black market, fake partner, vice workers etc to come here to illegally, secure a PR & then chain migration to being in the rest of their third world burden.

    The international student pool should not form any pathway to PR or allow onshore PR application.
    The TR foreign students need to exit & then apply offshore along with other more deserving candidates.

    And the intake filters appear to be set all wrong.
    Only 6% of total intake is actually skilled employable & high value ? That’s not right.
    There must be better candidates to select from in the world, including the third world, than the current quality..