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'Hollow' laws fail Australia's migrant workers

By (a)manda Parkinson
Updated June 20 2024 - 6:05am, first published 6:00am
"Nine out of 10 migrants who knew they were underpaid took no action," the report says. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)
"Nine out of 10 migrants who knew they were underpaid took no action," the report says. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)

The exploitation of Australia's migrant workers through low wages and unpaid entitlements is being exacerbated by an "inaccessible" legal system, a report has found.

Under Fair Work laws, migrants are entitled to hold their employers accountable for unpaid wages and entitlements through the small claims court.

However, a Migrant Justice Institute report released on Thursday has found few do.

"An extremely small number of workers take this step - in 2022-23, only 137 attempted to recover their wages across the country," the report says.

"In reality, it is virtually impossible for most migrant workers to file and pursue a small claim without legal assistance."

The authors say the current Fair Work Act - intended to establish a guaranteed safety net of fair, relevant and enforceable minimum legal rights, and entitlements for all workers - is "effectively hollow".

"Nine out of 10 migrants who knew they were underpaid took no action," the report says.

However, the issue is not new to the federal government.

In 2019, the Commonwealth Migrant Workers' Taskforce recognised that the small claims court system was not enabling migrant workers to claim the wages they were owed.

It recommended a government review yet to be completed five years later.

The institute suggested a series of recommendations across three main categories: to increase legal assistance, review processes and ensure migrants were paid their claims.

It suggested a new wages and superannuation calculation service and to increase funding to the community legal services representing those aggrieved, and a duty lawyer scheme in court to support workers.

The report recommends a new dispute resolution process and streamlining of claims to address some of the challenges associated with lodging a claim.

It also suggested a grant scheme run by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations to ensure claims were paid regardless of employers' financial situations.

Australian Associated Press