Nearly four in five foreign language advertisements offering Australian jobs to overseas workers are doing so at below legal wages, according to an investigation by Fairfax and Monash University.
However, this does not seem to have shocked a workplace law expert who warned against “naivety” and said underpayments had always been a part of Australian society.
The Fairfax and Monash University investigation has exposed a high number of foreign job ads openly referring to “black jobs”, or jobs that pay below legal rates, from businesses trying to attract cheap labour to Australia.
The study, which targeted Mandarin-language websites and looked at more than a 1000 job ads aimed at temporary foreign workers in China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong, found 80% of the ads offered below legal rates.
The expose follows recent revelations about widespread wage fraud across 7-Eleven stores across the country and a significant number of workers reporting underpayment claims to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Michael Smith, the new chairman of 7-Eleven, recently said he believes the company’s problems are part of a “very widespread problem” when it came to underpayments and Australian workers.
Warwick Ryan, employment specialist at Swaab Attorneys, told SmartCompany this morning the Fair Work Ombudsman would have little jurisdiction over the posting of these international job ads themselves.
“It can’t control what someone does overseas, it doesn’t have jurisdiction to do that,” he says.
“If someone is posting in Australia, they would have the beginnings of jurisdiction.
“There’s very little the Fair Work Ombudsman might be able to do.”
Ryan is more concerned the system in Australia is far too complex for the foreign workers who eventually do come here and work, as well as the employers that employ them.
“I act for both employees and employers and have sympathies for both,” he says.
Ryan says the workplace relations system in Australia is complicated and no other country has the awards system Australia does.
He believes the large majority of underpayments taking place are likely due to employers not understanding their obligations, rather than employers having malicious intent.
“That accounts for a reasonable portion of underpayments but doesn’t account for the most egregious,” he says.
And Ryan says some industries are more prone to wage pressures than others.
“The industries that suffer are low-threshold industries,” he says.
Ryan warns against what he calls the “screeching naivety” in current discourse about underpayments.
“Underpayment has always been a part of our society,” he says.
“Migrant workers come out here and get their first job below rates
“Underpayments have always been a feature of business that have operated on weekends and late and night.”
However, Ryan says the Fair Work Ombudsman has been “more effective than ever” in ensuring compliance.
“What’s changed a little bit is compliance,” he says.