SYDNEY, AAP – Young workers in Australia are being paid as little as $1.25 per hour and exploitation of migrants is rampant on the country’s farms.
That’s the finding of a new report from Unions NSW based on a survey of job advertisements for fruit-pickers and interviews with workers nationwide.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese called for the government to tackle wage theft as he launched the report on Friday.
It comes after the government this week abandoned industrial relations reforms that would have penalised wage theft.
“This isn’t the Australian way,” Mr Albanese told reporters on Friday.
“We need to do much much better and we need to address this now.”
The report’s authors reviewed more than 1000 ads published, mainly on social media, between December 2019 and September 2020.
They also interviewed over 100 horticultural workers.
Of the workers they interviewed, none met the minimum legal wage.
The vast majority – 88 per cent – of job ads promised “piece rates” rather than an hourly wage, meaning workers were paid per volume of work.
But 96 per cent of the piece rates advertised would not enable a worker to reach the minimum wage of $19.84 an hour, the report says.
The lowest hourly rates earned by workers were $1.25 for picking blueberries, with surveyed workers averaging between $15 and $18 an hour.
“This is a national disgrace,” Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said.
He called on the horticulture sector to “clean up its own backyard” before complaining about struggling to attract workers due to migration limits.
“Have a backbone, provide minimum rates of pay and you will get your workforce,” Mr Morey said.
The report recommends the abolition of piecework rates and a minimum wage guaranteed to all workers in the sector.
Unions NSW also wants to abolish the requirement for working holiday makers to work in the regions to extend their visas.
Mr Morey described the requirement as leading to “indentured servitude”.
It should be easier for migrant workers to report exploitation, the report also recommends.
“It’s not surprising that Australians don’t want to work for $2 an hour,” Mr Albanese said.