The FWO raided the hotel group’s Blue Mountains operations last month and found that workers on 407 visas were forced to return $480 of their wages to the employer for rent and meals that were not always provided.
The investigation found that the boarding fees for the staff were automatically deducted from their wages and were often $60 more than it would cost to rent an entire house in Katoomba area, where the hotel group is based.
After the rent is taken out of their wages, the “interns” as the employer called them, were left with a salary of $16,000, plus $5,000 in super.
It was also found that that the employees were provided time sheets stating that they had worked 38-hour weeks, when in they’d worked on average closer to 50 hours. The 12 hours discrepancy were recorded on another set of handwritten rosters.
It was found that employees were also not paid for the overtime they worked, sometimes up to the three hours, each day.
The employer denied the allegations. In a statement they said they were “co-operating with that investigation and [believe] that [they had] acted in accordance with the applicable industrial laws. The investigation is continuing, therefore it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time.”
The FWO and the Department of Home Affairs both declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
However, a spokesman for Home Affairs did state that “takes any allegations of misuse of a visa or exploitation of a visa holder seriously”.
Professor Allan Fels, who chaired the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, told the Sun-Herald that this case is an “important example” of exploitation of migrant workers. The Fels-chaired taskforce delivered a report to the Morrison government in March, with 22 recommendations including jail time for serious wage theft.
“[This case] looks to be highly exploitative, highly calculated and a deliberate attempt to break the law,” Fels said.
Migrant workers face different challenges to Australian workers, with Fels noting that “are not typically exploited over accommodation”.
“The foreign worker coming here is much more exploitable because of their lack of personal supports, their non-access to accommodation, their poor knowledge of the law, the unlikelihood they will report the offender for fear of losing their working rights,” he said.