Foreign workers on student and working holiday visas are paid below the minimum wage due to a lack of awareness and language difficulties, a City Hub investigation has found.
Overseas workers receive $13 an hour and work up to 12 hours a day at a factory in Auburn supplying goods to Woolworths and Aldi.
“I think maybe 50 people work in the factory – a lot of Chinese people, maybe just four Taiwanese people, some Afghanistan people and a few Indian people,” said a woman who works at the Auburn factory.
“We work so hard but we just get from the company $13 [an hour] – we work almost 10 or 11, sometimes 12 [hours] because if there is a lot of order we have to finish.
“[I feel] very, very tired but we have to keep doing it we can’t say no – if you say no maybe they will fire you.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman has recouped over $1 million in the last year from companies that have underpaid their workers. The full-time minimum wage is currently $16.37 per hour.
“Last financial year, we completed 2,108 complaints from foreign workers and recouped $1.427 million for foreign workers who had been underpaid,” said a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson.
“Foreign workers can often be vulnerable because of factors such as language barriers, youth and a lack of awareness of their entitlements when working in Australia.
“The hospitality, retail and hair and beauty industries are among the top industries for underpayment complaints nationally.”
The Auburn factory worker described her working hours and said much of her time is wasted working to make paltry sums of money.
“I start at 3 o’clock in the morning and we have to work four and a half hours, and then we just have one break time for 30 minutes,” she said.
“Then we have to work for six hours and then finish. It is so tiring, because the break time is just half an hour and it is just one time.
“In my mind I work in this company, I waste my time to make money because I have to spend a lot of time to make this money.”
A spokesperson for Woolworths outlined the company’s supplier guidelines concerning employee working conditions.
“Woolworths is committed to ensuring the suppliers with whom we work provide fair working conditions for their employees,” said the spokesperson. “We have strict sourcing guidelines in place around ethical sourcing.”
Another overseas traveller on a working holiday visa said he worked up to 10 hours a day for $13 an hour this year. He worked at a restaurant in the city to earn enough to cover his living expenses.
“I worked at a Japanese restaurant in Martin Place and I used to work $13 an hour and about 10 hours in a day and five days in a week,” he said.
“I wanted to work less hours but I needed to work more because I needed money just for my living cost.
“I hoped I could work at a local restaurant or somewhere else and I handed my résumé maybe more than 50 restaurants or cafés, but I couldn’t get the job.”
A spokesperson for the National Union of Workers said that incidences of employees underpaid usually involve those on student visas.
“We sometimes hear of non-union workplaces which pay non-award or enterprise agreement – even below minimum wage rates of pay,” said the spokesperson.
“When we come across these places, we usually find they have people on student visas. If they do we will alert the appropriate authority.”