Hospo Voice

What’s life like for migrant workers in Australia?

April 12, 2021

Why we all need to be migrant worker allies

At Hospo Voice, our goal is to end exploitation of hospitality workers. We’re working our butts off to eliminate wage theft, harassment, and exploitation in hospo.

But there’s one group that’s more susceptible to insecure working arrangements. Employers consistently exploit migrant workers and those on temporary visas because of the working and sponsorship arrangements of our current system.

What’s it like to be on a student visa in Australia?

Unfortunately, the life of a migrant worker in Australia can be pretty tough. Many migrant workers come to Australia on student visas, which restricts them from working over 40 hours a fortnight.

The problem is many students don’t have a safety net and need a job to support their study. Australia is expensive and 40 hours a fortnight is sometimes not enough to make ends meet.

Employers know this and often they force workers to go ‘off the books’ so they can earn extra cash. When migrant workers are being paid cash in hand, they’re often exploited and don’t get paid what they should.

This is exactly what happened to Peruvian chef Lucia when she arrived in Australia. In her first job, most kitchen staff were on student visas and officially only worked 20 hours a week. All other work they did that fortnight was cash in hand.

When I came here I didn’t know much about it (the industry). Now that I look back, it was really bad,” she said.

Lucia said her bosses expected her to feel grateful that they were being paid cash in hand.

 “I think most bosses in hospo think because you’re a migrant, you’re in a more vulnerable position. They try to take advantage of that,” she said.

What about migrant workers on sponsorship visas?

Often, migrant workers come to Australia on student visas and hope to get sponsored by their employer so they can legally work more. However, that comes with its own sense of precariousness.

As we wrote in this article, although employers can’t cancel your visa, they can decide not to sponsor you anymore and it’s difficult to get a new sponsorship.

How can you increase your rights as a migrant worker?

Unfortunately, the system is stacked against you as a migrant worker in Australia but there are some things you can do.

1. Stand up for your rights

Lucia said that now she knows what her rights are in hospitality, she is upfront from the initial interview.

I ask them what they’re paying, I ask how long the other workers have been working there. I ask when the last worker left and why,” she said.

It tells the employer that you won’t put up with abusive behaviour and underpayment.

Not sure what your rights are? Read some of our fact sheets on our Mobilise app.

2. Check out the employer on Fair Plate.

According to Lucia, this came in handy at a recent job interview.

“The interview was very uncomfortable, I wanted to leave…. Then I later looked him up on Fair Plate and he worked for people who had exploited workers in the past.”

If you’ve dealt with a dodgy boss, make sure you leave a review on Fair Plate too. It could save other hospo workers like Lucia lots of heartache!

3. Speak up if you see someone being exploited

Many migrant workers in Australia feel too vulnerable to complain themselves, which is why it’s important for others to speak up.

Every time I notice something that is not ok, like someone is being abused or underpaid, I say… we have to say something. Maybe people are in a different position to me, they’re more vulnerable economically or don’t like confrontation, and they don’t say anything. But I do,” Lucia said.

4. Join the Hospo Voice union

If you’re being exploited at work, we can help. We go through your options and be your ally if you need to confront your boss or make a complaint.

There is change in the air and we’re optimistic things are improving for migrant workers in Australia. Thanks to the pandemic, there are fewer transient workers coming to Australia. There are more jobs in hospo and Lucia believes employers are realising they need to treat their workers better for them to stick around.            

We’re also hoping our latest campaign ‘Ending the ‘permanent temporary’ underclass of migrant workers in hospo’ will help. Our goals are to remove these 40 hours a fortnight work limitations on student visas and to name and shame bosses who exploit migrant workers.

Whether you’re a migrant worker or an ally, join Hospo Voice and get involved in the campaign around justice for migrant workers.

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