Fair Work reveals mass exploitation of migrant workers

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s latest annual report shows a “significant increase” in wage theft, especially among migrant workers:

In 2018–19, we conducted 1256 investigations into more complex or significant matters (involving vulnerable workers, serious non-compliance and/or uncooperative employers)…

The overall compliance rate for our audits for the year was 45%, with the most common contraventions relating to:

  • hourly rate underpayments (33%)
  • failure to provide pay slips in their prescribed form (23%)
  • penalty rates for weekend work (10%)…

Fast food, restaurants and cafes

The fast food, restaurants and cafes sector continues to be a key priority. While only accounting for 7% of the labour force, the hospitality industry has consistently had the highest number of disputes we’ve assisted with for the last five financial years.

The hospitality industry accounts for 36% of all anonymous reports we received in the last financial year (more than three times higher than the second highest ranked industry) and accounted for one-quarter of all our litigations. Within this industry, the highest rates of non-compliance are found in the fast food, restaurants and cafes sector…


Our report into the Harvest Trail detailed widespread non-compliance among employers in the horticulture and viticulture sectors, a significant reliance on migrant workers and a negative impact where illegal labour-hire arrangements were used…

Vulnerable and migrant workers

Intelligence continues to tell us that migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable cohorts. They’re over-represented in our disputes and compliance and enforcement outcomes. While migrant workers make up only 6% of the Australian workforce1, they account for:

  • 22% of all formal disputes completed
  • 24% of anonymous reports received
  • 83% of the litigations we commenced in 2018–19.

Our research indicates that migrant workers are often vulnerable to exploitation because they:

  • are new to the Australian labour market
  • have limited knowledge about their workplace rights and entitlements
  • may be experiencing language and cultural barriers.

Basically, it’s Groundhog Day in Australia’s modern slave economy.

Leith van Onselen

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