Wage theft in Australia: findings of the national temporary migrant work survey

Findings of the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey
Labour market Labour supply Work insecurity Wages Discrimination Employee protection Backpacker tax Australia

The National Temporary Migrant Work Survey is the most comprehensive study of wage theft and working conditions among international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants in Australia. The survey draws on responses from 4,322 temporary migrants across 107 nationalities of every region in the world, working in a range of jobs in all states and territories. Its unprecedented scope indicates the breadth, depth and complexity of non-compliance with Australian labour law.

Temporary migrants comprise up to 11% of the Australian labour market. Despite the prominence of migrant worker exploitation in the media, there has been limited empirical data on the overall nature and extent of wage theft among international students and backpackers in Australia. Still less is known about how experiences vary between students and backpackers, across nationality groups, or in different industries. This study begins to fill these gaps. It enables development of evidence-based policies and services that are more responsive to temporary migrants’ diverse experiences and needs, as identified by them.

The survey addressed the characteristics of temporary migrants’ lowest paid job, rates and method of pay, working conditions, how they found low paid work, their knowledge of Australian minimum wages and perceptions of their labour market. It was conducted online between September and December 2016, in twelve languages in addition to English. The survey was anonymous and open to any individual who had worked in Australia on a temporary visa.

Most participants (55%) were international students, followed by around a third (33%) who were backpackers (Working Holiday Makers) while working in their lowest paid job in Australia. Three quarters (77%) of international students were enrolled at a university and 23% were studying at vocational and English-language colleges. Almost half of participants (47%) were from countries in Asia, including 15% who were Chinese nationals (including Hong Kong). The majority of participants (57%) had undertaken their lowest paid job in New South Wales. Survey participants’ experiences broadly reflect current conditions as 69% had arrived in Australia since 2014 and 84% since 2012.




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