Wage theft: Report exposes how Australians are being exploited in the workplace

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Office workers and shoppers walk through Sydney's central business district in Australia, September 7, 2016.
Office workers and shoppers walk through Sydney's central business district in Australia, September 7, 2016. Reuters/Jason Reed

A new report shows that a number of Australians are being exploited in the workplace. The findings come amid slow wage growth in the country.

More than a million Australian employees rarely, or worse, never get the minimum wage while some are not paid for additional work carried outside actual shift hours. One in 10 people is considered ripped off by employees, findings in a report from Kronos show.

The report says that 43 percent of working Australians said they had worked for an employer who paid their labour less than the minimum. Also, time spent on meetings and training are not being paid, according to nearly half of Aussies.

Eleven percent believe their salary does not correctly correspond to the number of hours they have spent at work. For Kronos ANZ managing director Peter Harte, these results are disappointing amid today’s “mature economy” and at a time when several people are working harder.

Even backpackers and international students are not receiving the full legal minimum wage. Findings previously released by UNSW Sydney and UTS suggested that the problem of exploitation of workers from abroad was severe.

A recipe for exploitation

Businesses that are breaching regulations may face significant penalty rates as the practice is illegal. Experts claimed the hospitality sector is one of the worst when it comes to wage theft.

Compared to workers from other industries, employees in the hospitality sector are not so strongly unionised. Will Barsby, an employment law expert at Shine Lawyers, said that the industry is a hotspot for exploitation primarily because workers are usually young, unskilled or migrants.

Barsby believes some workers are vulnerable. For some, working might be a condition of their visa, while some are in need of money. There are workers who remain unskilled, and Barsby said that remains to be a problem.

“When you put all these things in the mix, people aren’t aware of their rights — people are desperate to work, and it’s a recipe for exploitation,” News.com.au reports Barsby as saying. Underpayment is, with no doubt, an issue.

Australians are not blinded by illegal practices in the workforce as over 15 percent of respondents said they are aware that they were not paid correctly. But Harte maintained that the situation is not ideal for building a thriving and intelligent economy, something that the country must possess to compete on the global stage.

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