News story 2nd Nov 2015

Forum highlights exploitation in the workforce

The Australian Consortium for Research on Employment and Work (ACREW) hosted a very successful forum on 27 October 2015, in partnership with the Industrial Relations Society of Victoria.

ACREW forum

ACREW forum

ACREW is part of the Centre for Global Business and the Department of Management. The research group undertakes research on contemporary work and employment issues, aims to raise awareness as well as promote public debate. Given the recent exposure of the systematic abuse of migrant and other vulnerable workers in Australia, this forum aimed to bring together experts from a number of fields to highlight and discuss these issues from different perspectives.

The forum examined the causes and consequences of gaps in the regulatory framework. Various types of employment arrangements, such as franchising, which are associated with an increased risk of exploitation.

Other issues that were covered in the presentations included the exploitation of international students, 457 temporary skilled migrants, harvest workers, and working holiday makers. The presenters highlighted the effectiveness and limitations of the existing regulations, and made some suggestions for improvement.

Professor Alan Fels AO, who led the independent inquiry into the 7/11 wage scandal, provided the opening presentation on underpayment, overwork and the franchise relationship.

The investigation found that 7/11 franchises ran on a low level of profit and were found to be legally responsible for the underpayment of millions of dollars of salaries. Professor Fels noted that since the enquiry and exposure of this issue there had been 430 claims, with an average of $22,000 underpayment for each employee.  Professor Fels also commented that he expected many more claims to be made in the future.

The forum hosted a plurality of perspectives. Mr Faraqoue, a Principal in Maurice Blackburn, provided a legal perspective on the matter. On the other hand, Ms Smith, from the Fair Work Ombudsman, highlighted issues in relation to enforcement of the current regulatory framework and outlined some of the preventive measures that are currently being undertaken.

Monash University researcher Professor Nyland and Monash multicultural employment consultant Mr Ong presented the various issues and challenges that international students in Australia face when participating in the labour market. Ms Howells-Schramm from VECCI spoke about the role played by employer associations in protecting vulnerable workers.

To close the forum, Ms Cinanni, National President of the National Union of Workers, highlighted some of the unscrupulous and unsafe work practices that vulnerable groups of workers, such as migrants, are systemically exposed to. As part of her presentation, Ms Cinanni also exposed some of the exploitative practices her union helped to uncover.