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Know Your Rights: Are You Being Underpaid?

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by Lisa Johnson

over 2 years ago

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Recently on the ABC 7.30 report, there was an article about working holiday visa workers facing exploitation and being asked to work under illegal conditions in Australia.  Young Asian workers have allegedly been recruited to work on working holiday visas but for less than award rates and with no access to the legal penalty rates for overtime. Now, let me say this: the employment relationship is between the worker and the employment agency.  Baiada (as identified in the article) is NOT the employer.  They do not directly employ the casual workers or in any way pay them directly.  

If there are pay discrepancies or irregularities, these are between the recruitment agency and the employee. There is a modern award that applies for the industry discussed in the report: Meat Industry Award 2010.  I had a quick look at it, and whilst there are allowable variations, there are also quite clear guidelines on the entitlements for casual employees.  These guidelines include casual and/or shift loadings and clear provision for overtime.  

Some awards specify that an employer can require a worker to work 'reasonable' overtime hours – this award does not appear to have that provision.  It simply says that all time worked outside of ordinary working hours must be paid at the appropriate overtime rate. In the event that Baiada has an enterprise bargaining agreement in place (this is instead of a modern award), the terms of that EBA should also apply to the casual employees – including provisions for overtime and penalty rates. So many employees simply do NOT know that their employer is required to tell them which award they are working under and which grade/level.  This applies to Australian workers but will be particularly true of young people working on working holiday visas.  

Therefore, they have no idea where to find out what their entitlements are. Fortunately, it's not that hard to find out.  FairWork has links to awards and a great little PayCheck function that anyone with internet access can use to check that they are being paid correctly.  And FairWork has been very busy prosecuting businesses who have underpaid staff.  Ignorance is NOT a defensible excuse for not paying award rates. If you are in Australia on a working holiday visa, your employer (usually an agency) is required to tell you the name of the award and the grade/level you are being employed under in that award.  

If they have not done this, request that they give you this information in writing. If you know the award/grade but you would like to check to ensure you are being paid at or above award rates, use this calculator. What do you do if you think you are being underpaid?

  • Use the pay rate calculator link above to find out what your minimum award rate is.
  • Seek clarification from your employer on award/level if necessary.
  • Contact FairWork and ask for their advice.

I hope that there are consequences for the agency outlined on the ABC show.  I look forward to watching this space.

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