Migrant worker access to justice in Australia project

Many temporary visa holders never recover underpaid wages from their employers in Australia. Some of them never try and others hit barriers when they do. This project is the first in-depth study of the ways in which temporary migrants can seek redress for unpaid wages (including through the Fair Work Ombudsman), the extent to which they bring claims in practice, and the outcomes of those claims. It unpacks the barriers that prevent the vast majority from asserting their rights, and how experiences may differ across nationality groups, industries, and visa categories.

It draws on interviews with government agencies, legal service providers, advocates, unions, researchers and individual migrant workers, and numerous focus groups with temporary migrants, as well as the Temporary Migrant Work Survey 2017, a nationwide online survey of 4,322 temporary workers in Australia. The study also examines case data on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s handling of migrant worker complaints.

Findings and recommendations from the study will be released in a report in 2018, along with several academic articles.


7-Eleven: Lessons from a business-led redress process

After media reports of widespread exploitation of 7-Eleven’s international student workforce across Australia, the company established a Wage Repayment Program. Paying out $150 million in total, this was the largest payout of unpaid wages in Australian history. Drawing on interviews with international students and a range of stakeholders across Australia, this project considers the barriers that prevent temporary migrants from accessing remedies for unpaid entitlements within existing legal and institutional frameworks in Australia. It identifies the factors that made the 7-Eleven Wage Program so unusually accessible and effective, and lessons for government institutions and future business-led redress processes. Findings from the study will be published in an article in 2018.

International students and the Fair Work Ombudsman

This project, commissioned by FWO in 2016, investigates why so few international students engage with FWO’s employment services despite widespread reporting of exploitation of international students in the Australian labour market. The report, published in 2017, was authored by Alex Reilly, Joanna Howe, Laurie Berg, Bassina Farbenblum, and George Tan.

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International Students at UNSW: Conditions at work and access to justice

Funded by the UNSW Grand Challenge on Migration, this project examines UNSW international students’ conditions at work and access to remedies for wage underpayment. It draws on data from approximately 750 UNSW international students obtained through the Temporary Migrant Work Survey 2017. The study explores the nature of work undertaken by UNSW international students, including the hours they work, the industry and location of their work, their rates of pay and how they found their job. In order to identify appropriate services and interventions to address exploitation of working international students, it examines the factors that correlate with underpaid work and the reasons why these underpaid international students may not have sought to recover unpaid wages.