The Fair Work Ombudsman is being accused of ignoring Australian workers who are ripped off by greedy bosses, in favour of assisting those from overseas who are working in Australia on temporary visas.
The allegation is being made by leading Australian industrial relations expert Miles Heffernan from Industrial Relations Claims, who wants the workplace watchdog to set up a separate department to deal with matters involving visa holders.
“All you have to do is look at Fair Work’s annual report, or their regular media releases, to see that their priority is to take legal action on behalf of overseas workers – some of whom have left the country and can’t be located – it’s crazy and Aussie workers are being left without assistance,” he said.
More than half of the 22 media releases published by Fair Work by April this year proudly promote its work in bringing court action or penalties against employers who have exploited and underpaid migrant workers, or visa holders.
For example, one dated the 11th of April outlines court action being taken by the agency against a Victorian-based massage parlour operator who has allegedly ripped off a Chinese worker in Australia on a 462 work and holiday visa.
This is just one of more than a dozen other media releases outlining various legal action taken by Fair Work against employers of overseas workers.
In some instances, the regulator works to recover money for overseas workers who can’t be located, usually because they have left Australia, as is the case outlined in a press release dated 22nd of March involving former workers from a PappaRich outlet.
Overseas workers a priority
According to the annual report published by the Fair Work Ombudsman, migrant workers made up just 6 per cent of the workforce, but trigger 63 per cent of court cases initiated by the agency.
The report states that investigating the exploitation of overseas workers is a priority for the agency.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker is repeatedly quoted in media releases making this same statement -word for word – lazily copied and pasted by her media team:
“We prioritise any requests for assistance from migrant workers, who can be particularly vulnerable due to language or cultural barriers and may not be aware of their workplace rights. All employees in Australia have the same rights at work, regardless of citizenship or visa status, and we encourage anyone with concerns about their pay to contact us.”
What about Aussie workers?
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at IR Claims, said Aussie workers who are exploited should not be considered a lesser priority by the workplace watchdog.
“There is no doubt that overseas workers are a vulnerable cohort, but so are plenty of Australian nationals who are young, or who don’t know their workplace rights, or are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their job,” he said.
Mr Heffernan said his firm is regularly contacted by desperate workers who have been turned away by the regulator without receiving any assistance.
“Often they are told to negotiate with the employer themselves, or they are told they will have to hire their own lawyer to pursue their unpaid wages – it makes you wonder why the taxpayer is forking out $120 million a year to fund a workplace watchdog,” he said.
IR Claims argues for a separate task force
Last year, IR Claims made an extensive submission to the Queensland government’s inquiry into wage theft, in which it argued for the establishment of a separate vulnerable workers task force to assist visa holders so as not to undermine the important enforcement responsibility to Australian workers.
“Aussie workers shouldn’t miss out on assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman, simply because they are Australian,” Mr Heffernan said.
“All workers who are being exploited deserve the attention of the workplace watchdog, regardless of where they are born.”
If you are not being paid your correct wages and entitlements, or if you are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on
1300 045 466