Backpackers revealed as most likely group to dispute pay
Backpackers on working holiday visas are a reliable labour source for employers who rely on seasonal workers.
Curiously it turn out that backpackers on working holiday visas also account for the highest level of pay disputes raised with the Fair Work Ombudsman, new statistics reveal.
It was also female visa-holders in their 20s who were the most likely to seek help with wage disputes from the Ombudsman.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said minimum wage workers from overseas, and especially those working as fruit and vegetable pickers and packers, were vulnerable to underpayment.
Ms James said the profile of the typical underpaid overseas worker had emerged from an analysis of requests for assistance from overseas workers received throughout 2015.
More than $2.2 million was recovered in underpaid wages and entitlements for working holiday visa-holders following disputes last calendar year – an average of $4,317 per dispute.
Of the working holiday visa-holders who contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman requesting assistance, almost 20% were from the fruit and vegetable picking sector, almost 13% in food and beverages and almost 8% were employed as kitchen hands.
The majority were employed on a casual basis.
The most common complaint from visa-holders were that they had either been underpaid or simply not paid at all.
Ms James said employers who exploited vulnerable visa-holders were taken to court, and last year some 24 matters were lodged by the Fair Work Ombudsman, alleging underpayment of visa-holders.
Some 15 employers signed Enforceable Undertakings aimed at addressing non-compliance and encouraging behavioural change.
In addition, Fair Work inspectors issued 157 formal letters of caution to employers, 145 infringement notices (on-the-spot fines) and 39 compliance notices.
“While many employers want to do the right thing, there are some who seek to gain a competitive advantage by exploiting vulnerable workers, such as visa-holders,” Ms James said.
The Fair Work Ombudsman currently has a number of Inquiries underway to identify and address the structural and behavioural drivers of non-compliance in various industry networks and supply chains in which overseas workers are heavily represented.
These include a review of the wages and conditions of workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa, an Inquiry into the workplace arrangements of workers cleaning 4 and 5 star hotels and a Harvest Trail inquiry into the horticulture and viticulture sectors nationally.