Visitors on $3/hr

Foreigners on working holidays are earning as little as $3 an hour in Australia, prompting calls for a register of "ethical" businesses to be set up so travellers know which businesses they can trust.

Sunday Times, Perth,  by Sarah Quinton, 3 November 2013

Immigration expert Jamie Lingham said some farmers knew they could exploit the foreigners because of a rule that forces them to complete 88 days work in the bush if they want a second visa.

Mr Lingham said a nationwide registry would ensure workers were protected and visa holders couldn’t "pay off’ farmers to say they completed the work.

"We need a register where workers go through a group of approved farms who have been signed off and the people who have been exploiting the overseas workers don’t get access to this labour," he said. "That would also stop people from flouting the system and potentially paying these farmers for sign-off that they’ve worked for them for three months." Irish-born Perth resident Lisa Long said she worked for $1.50 a bucket picking tomatoes in Queensland, sometimes making only $3 an hour.

"The work was horrible," Ms Long said.

The working holiday scheme is also being used as a stepping stone to permanent residency with some Perth restaurants and cafes paying workers as little as $650 for a 60-hour week on the promise of sponsoring them for a 457 visa.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said foreign workers, including working holidaymakers, can often be vulnerable because of factors such as language barriers, their young age and a lack of awareness of their entitlements when working in Australia.

Employers were forced to pay more than $1.4 million to 2108 underpaid foreign workers by the Fair Work Ombudsman last year.

Young Italians represent the biggest increase in working holidaymakers in the past year, with a 66 per cent rise.

Among them is 21-year-old Sefora Silvera, who came to Australia because of the 50 per cent unemployment in Italy.

"I’m from Naples in the south and we don’t have money, we don’t have jobs," Ms Silvera said. "I try to get a better life in Australia." Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said all working visa holders were provided with relevant information.

"Working holidaymakers who undertake work during their stay are entitled to the same pay and conditions as Australian workers," he said.

Anyone who believes they may not be receiving their full entitlements can contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or go to www.fairwork.gov.au for free advice and assistance.


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