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Steal from the Poor? Wage Theft

For those of you who went through the 00s, you probably saw the ad where they showed you several phrases like, “You wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a handbag, you wouldn’t steal a television, you wouldn’t steal a movie.” Well, how about stealing people’s wages?

        Are you one of the many people who works for a business, works hard, and at the end of the day, are only paid AUD$6 per hour? It is unfortunate but you are being exploited by your employer for the sake of their profit. This is the reality of many Australians, including Tasmanians and international students studying at the University of Tasmania. By working at these establishments, you risk being abused by your employer with all sorts of untrue statements. You could be deported as you are working over the 40-hour allowance as stated in your student visa, and if you report them, they will make sure that you will not be able to work in Tasmania again.

It’s not a few bad apples, it’s a regular practice.”

        In Victoria, the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews addressed the severe number of high profile cases where workers are being dishonestly underpaid from the minimum wage and awards which are set by the Fair Work Commission. This practice among businesses is so popular among many, but not all, business owners in Australia, that many referred to it as a “business model” as underpaying their staff will help boost their profits. Here is a story from one of the many students who was promised a job with wages, but never got paid.

        “I was so happy to receive word that I got hired in Hobart, Tasmania. My allowance was recently reduced due to the bad exchange rates between my country and Australia and this has caused me to suffer from anxiety attacks and depression. My pay was to be $10AUD because my employer said that it is because we are the same nationality as me [sic] and he told me not to let the other staff know. As a new student at the University, I have [sic] no idea what was going on.

        My employer told me that he will not pay me for any trainings and told me to come in to work for 3-4 hours for 3-4 days per week. At the end of the shift, he will treat all his staff members a meal. This went on for 3-4 weeks and I was beginning to feel drained from all this so-called work but with no pay. Training was horrible as he gave mixed messages and he had a bad temper. On my last day, he screamed at me because I did not arrange the ingredients in a proper arrangement and tossed the bowl to [the] floor. Throughout that entire training session, he kept yelling at me and frightened the rest of the customers away. Once I got back home, I sent one message to him and told him that I resigned.” – Wan (name used is an alias to protect the individual from the employer’s threats)

What are the problems found in Wan’s case?

There are many problems in Wan’s case, starting with:

a)     Discriminatory pay – Wan was paid AUD$10AUD, AUD$4 more than the other staff, who were from another country.

b)     Minimum wage – Wan did not receive the correct award rate for the role in which he was employed. (If you’re 20 years old, it is 23.12AUD per hour for casual workers)

c)     Training – employees must be paid for the entire duration of training. The employer told Wan that he would not be paid for training.

d)     Being yelled at by your boss  Employees should never be subjected to bullying, especially from your own boss. Bullying includes insulting, yelling, swearing, and receiving threatening phone calls or text messages.

What can you do?

Fair Work Ombudsman

        In 2017, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) reached out to several university students in Tasmania to help spread awareness of workplace rights and entitlements. A team of eager law students with a passion to educate other students at the University of Tasmania about their work rights in Australia, and to assist those who have any questions regarding their workplace entitlements, was created. There are several activities the team are currently planning to engage with university students and help to raise awareness of workplace issues.

        The team does not currently have an online presence but if you have any issues with your workplace, please consult the Fair Work Ombudsman website. If you do find the team, please don’t be afraid to reach out as they are group of friendly people who will be more than happy to assist you as much as possible.

Fair Work Ombudsman website

              The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website holds a wealth of information for you to gain access to details about your workplace rights and laws. There is a Pay Calculator to help calculate the correct rate of pay you should earn from the work you do, and a leave calculator to assist you to calculate your leave entitlements. The Fair Work Ombudsman have also released an app called ‘Record my Hours’, which is free and downloadable from the app store or google play. Here you can record and store the hours that you work and upload photos of your rosters and/or pay slips.  The app is available for download in 17 languages.

              One of the many important features of the Fair Work Ombudsman website is the anonymous report that allows people to report a workplace concern anonymously. The information provided to the FWO through anonymous reports helps them to plan their education and enforcement activities.  This report is available in English and 16 other languages. If you require assistance from the FWO, you can register for My Account, which is like your own mini site on the FWO website where you can store information and lodge a Request for Assistance.

              If you do not understand English very well, the Fair Work Ombudsman website has an option for you to change the language of the website and is able to be translated into 40 different languages. There is also dedicated information in 30 different languages that helps to explain your work rights in Australia.

Did you know?

              Did you know that your employer cannot fire you from your job for contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman?  If you have worked over your 40 hour visa condition, the FWO has to set up an arrangement with the Department of Home Affairs to support students who come forward to request assistance if they require it. Your temporary visa will not be cancelled if you:

  •       Had an entitlement to work as part of your visa
  •       Believe you have been exploited at work
  •       Have reported the circumstances to the FWO and
  •       Are actively assisting them in an investigation.

This arrangement applies as long as you commit to abide by your visa conditions in the future, and there are no other grounds for your visa to be cancelled, such as national security, health, character or fraud grounds.

There is strength in numbers, Join Your Union

              The Union Movement has a long history in Australia and has brought many changes to the work culture that is seen today. A few key victories from the movement are; annual leave, awards, penalty rates, maternity leave, superannuation, equal pay for women, health and safety and workers’ compensation, sick leave, long service leave, redundancy pay, allowances: shift allowance, uniform allowance, meal breaks, rest breaks, collective bargaining and unfair dismissal protection.

              Joining your union have many benefits as you gain protection at work, better wages and other possible benefits such as cheaper movie tickets! The union will be able to assist you and there are a lot of friendly people who will lend a helping hand. The more union members are in your workplace, the more effective your union will be able to assist you.

              If you are unsure as to which union is for you, head over to https://www.unionjoin.org.au/ by Unions Tas and answer a couple of questions in order to find out which union will cover you.

              If you are unfamiliar with the Union Movement, check out Hospo Voice on Facebook as they are a union for hospo workers (those who work in the hospitality business such as restaurants and cafes). There are people getting together and voicing out their problems such as being underpaid. For those who work in the retail and fast food industry (Domino’s, Big W, Kmart, Maccas, KFC, etc), RAFFWU is your union.

              As workers in Australia, you are protected by labour law and have rights at your workplace. By going to the Fair Work Ombudsman and reporting to them about your employer, you are not only helping yourself but others who are in the same shoes as you are. Take that first step, and make a difference.    

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