Meet the migrants speaking out about wage theft

Meet the migrants speaking out about wage theft


Why don’t you pay them the minimum wage? I’m not a business owner. Why won’t you pay them the minimum wage Shaukat? These are vulnerable people Shaukat. How can you justify underpaying them? I cried so many times. So the system is very much stacked
against people speaking out. So what are you going to do? I don’t know, I’ll just keep searching. We’re often told that immigration is the
backbone of Australia’s economy. Since Federation those who have come to our shores have come with the hope that they could
build a new and better life for themselves, off the back of a promise that they’d be
afforded the same rights as their fellow Australian workers. But it doesn’t always turn out that way. Some instead get trapped in a hidden labour market where they’re hesitant to complain about their treatment and scared to speak up against their employer for fear of deportation. So what’s life like in the shadows for Australia’s
newly arrived working migrants? Jonathan is here on a temporary student visa. He’s studying engineering at UNSW. But tonight he is looking for a job. If that doesn’t sound like much that’s because it isn’t. In fact, it’s illegal. It’s 10 below the standard for that role and five below the minimum wage. How much did it cost for you to study in Australia? Only the tuition fee would cost us around, let me do the calculation, that should
be $80,000 for two years. So, I mean for a lot of Australians they might look at Chinese international
students and think they don’t need any help, they’ve got wealthy parents, they drive Porsches and nice cars and wear expensive watches. Are you in that category? Obviously I’m not in that category. I’m not one of them. That’s a stereotype, it doesn’t mean
that all of us have to be like that. It’s just like my mum, she’s working in a supermarket. We don’t have a family business. It’s not like some of the millionaires or billionaires. It’s not easy. It’s always not easy especially for a person abroad who’s holding a student visa and has limited working hours. International students are often limited to
a 20-hour working week. In that time and on the wage Jonathan’s being offered, he wouldn’t be able to make more than $200 to $300. Hey Jonathan. How’d you go? I’ve been to seven or eight places and most of them are willing to take me but none of them would pay me more than $15. I think the average price would be like $12. There are 700,000 international students in Australia. It’s a lucrative $34 billion industry. A national temporary migrant survey
found that almost a third are being paid less than $12 per hour. And many aren’t even hiding it. A study by Unions NSW revealed that almost four in five Chinese, Korean and Spanish jobs, illegally advertised rates of pay
below the legal minimum. I thought that Australia advertising looks like heaven. Angela is from South Korea. She came to Australia on a working holiday visa but it hasn’t been the picture perfect
postcard she’d imagined. Like everyone just relax on the beach area. I saw one photo people getting around Bondi Beach and wearing Santa Claus hats. Yeah what does it look like? Oh wow that looks really good. It seems like I can have that moment
if I arrived in Australia. Yeah. Over the last five years Angela has
worked in a range of different jobs and in every role she’s been underpaid. First there was the farmer that said
he could only pay her $4 to $6 an hour as a fruit picker. Why are you only paying this much
to us and then he said if you don’t want you get another job. Then there was the Korean cafe in Sydney where she worked for $11 an hour. Can we make a contract? And they said in Korean society in Sydney we don’t do that. Why? Are you going to report this? In her last job she was a supervisor. It was at a cleaning company
contracted to a racecourse. There she received just $15. The award rate for that role is just over $27. But because Angela mainly worked weekends and public holidays she was underpaid by up to $45 an hour and literally paid in darkness. I have to be like invisible sometimes that’s what my manager said. In the beginning I tried to but I don’t know how to be invisible because obviously I’m working in there. But the thing that really got to Angela was when she discovered one of her colleagues hiding behind some bins. And he was eating the leftover food from the customer. And I told him why are you hiding? And then he just put all the food inside of his mouth. But on the day it made me very sad. I cried so many times. I just felt like why are there only Korean workers in here doing it like this. You might be thinking if you’re being
underpaid, your conditions aren’t safe, and you’re not getting the same rights as others, then why don’t you just get a new job? Well, many try but the stakes are high and many visas only give you about 60
days to find yourself a new job or you could find yourself on a plane back to where you came from. It might happen tomorrow, it might
happen the day after tomorrow, going back to that place where I’ve been under attack, where the people will target me again. Mounib, an asylum seeker from Pakistan, was lucky enough to be taken in by a Melbourne couple. For Mounib, the price of being
sent home is especially high. I just try to hide my face from these people. So I’ve been under attack, in 2011, while I’m performing my security duty outside of my religious place in my hometown. I still remember when the first bullet crossed my head and I can’t run faster than the bullet. I was really traumatised I said oh my god they are serious, they seriously want to kill me. This is MITA. Yeah. That’s the detention facility? Yeah it starts from here. This is the new area they build for the high-risk people. It’s totally isolated. What was your expectations when
you came to Australia? My expectations were very clear like I came to Australia for a peaceful life, to stay in this country in complete harmony, that I’d be fully free and like I can live with my own freedom, with my religion, but unfortunately when I arrived I’d been detained by immigration and they
put me for more than three years in a detention centre. I saw so many dads. And I saw so many people harm themselves,
they try to cut their nerves, and so many things like that. Today I come back here again to see this fences, it’s just like nightmares for me. Mounib is still fighting to receive refugee status. But he was granted a Bridging visa that
allowed him to work full-time. After visiting as a customer, he was offered a job
at this supermarket in Brunswick Melbourne. At Hyat Hypermarket during my shift
I’m everything over there. Dealing with suppliers, dealing with customers, dealing with everyone. That’s under my duty. Taking care of the counter, refilling the shelves, ordering some milk, yogurts, cosmetic stuff. I love to be engaged with the people. He offered me $12 per hour. In August he told me that we should start
working night shifts since 1st September so I will pay you $14 per hour. I didn’t ask him to increase my salary,
I said okay never mind. Do it. Because I don’t know all these things. I was just released from a detention centre. Mounib was never asked to sign an
employment agreement. He didn’t know the minimum wage was $19.50 and he should have been getting penalty
rates for the weekends, holidays, and night shifts he consistently worked. When Mounib took his case to the
Migrant Workers Centre, he found out that he was being
underpaid by up to $45,000. A lot of money. Mounib’s case is not rare. It is all too common and we see it everywhere, we see it
in all sectors of the economy, we see it in retail, we see it in hospitality, most famously I guess we see it on farms, but there’s exploitation of workers
across the entire economy and this is just the tip of the iceberg really. The Migrant Workers Centre said Mounib
wasn’t the only employee being underpaid at Hyat Hypermarket. Three or four other temporary visa
holders were also being ripped off. Which means Shaukat, their boss, has some questions to answer. So I decided to confront him outside his store. Hey. Hi, Marty from SBS. I have some questions about your staff. Are you aware that you’re underpaying them? After the break, the 25-minute chase of Shaukat through the streets of Melbourne, and the many ways his story changed. Mounib, do you plan to pay him? I’m in Melbourne to confront the
owner of Hyat Hypermarket who’s been underpaying his migrant workers by tens of thousands of dollars. Shaukat? Hey. Hi, Marty from SBS. I have some questions about your staff. Are you aware that you’re underpaying them? Are you aware that you’re underpaying your staff? No. You know that it’s wage theft to not pay
them the right amount of money. You owe Mounib $45,000. Who’s Mounib? Mounib, do you plan to pay him? Who’s Mounib? He worked for you. No, I’m not running a shop. I’m not a business owner. This is your shop here is it not? No. I’m not a business owner. Well you were about to open the shop. No. We saw you were about to open the shop. No, I’m not a business owner, I’m
not a business owner man. I’m not a business owner. You can’t claim not to own your own shop Shaukat. I’m not a business owner. Why are you stealing wages? I’m not a business owner. Why are you stealing wages from your workers? It’s not my business. These are vulnerable people, they’re
international students. I’m not a business owner man. And an asylum seeker. I’m not a business owner. They’d like to be paid the minimum wage. I don’t know Mounib, who’s Mounib you’re talking about? How can you justify and act like you
don’t even know who he is? He worked for you tirelessly, he’s an asylum seeker, he spent three years in detention Shaukat. How long did you think you could just get away with it? Mounib I know him, but I’m not the owner at all. So Shaukat made a lot of claims, first
that he’s not the business owner but we’ve seen his ASIC profile and according to that he was the business owner right up until 2014 when he transferred
it into his wife’s name. The other claim that he makes is that he
doesn’t know Mounib as an employee, but I’ve seen the text messages that he sent Mounib, where he talks about owing wages,
being late in payments, and Mounib’s upcoming shifts. And the thing is, when bosses like
Shaukat underpay their workers it doesn’t just affect people like Mounib. It affects all of us because it also means they pay less tax,
that state governments can use for roads, health and education. Which is something that Hannah, not her real name, knows first hand. When I was working as an accountant
in a Korean accounting firm, most of the clients, I would say like 90%, would be able to not pay any like wages tax or superannuation because they don’t need to report those wage expenses. How were they getting around it? Because they also get some income,
like a sales income in cash and they don’t really report those cash incomes. They use that money to pay their employees cash in hand. And when you discovered that what did you do about it? I couldn’t really ask like about this issue to my bosses because it seemed like it happened a lot actually, almost every day. And the accountancy firm was complicit in that? Yeah. I think there is a systemic problem in this country where business is relying on the
exploitation of migrant workers to run their businesses. Mark Morey is the secretary of Unions NSW. If I go into a coffee shop and I grab the tip jar and I run out with it, I get arrested for theft, I get prosecuted potentially going to jail. But here’s the thing, while paying someone like Mounib below
the minimum wage is illegal, it’s not a criminal offence. And that depends on whether the worker is
willing to bring it up in the first place. Nine out of 10 of wage theft victims suffer in silence. Of those that do come forward only
3% take their complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman. The vast majority of them never
get the full amount back. If you can’t punish the crime,
Angela is hoping to prevent it. She volunteers at Kowhy where
she helps young Koreans navigate their way through the workplace. What is it that you would want then? Just treated the same, equally, like what others treat as well. Angela’s wish recently came true, she got a job in the occupation she’s trained for, childcare. And this time she’s getting paid a standard wage. We are not different, we’re all the same. For Mounib though, his life hangs in the balance. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I always, I always think positive, and I will not be negative. So that’s why I’m still alive. And Jonathan… What’s next? What are you going to do? I don’t know, I’ll just keep searching. Alright, good luck.

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