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We’ve let wage exploitation become the default experience of migrant workers

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21.03.2019

Australia’s Fairwork Commission has so far this year examined more than a dozen cases of wage theft. Those cases involve hundred of workers and millions of dollars in underpayments.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A significant report on the exploitation of migrant workers in Australia has been published this month. After a two-year inquiry by the federal Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, the report concludes that wage theft is widespread. Possibly as many as half of all temporary migrant workers are being underpaid.

Read more: We need to hear the stories of exploited unlawful migrant workers, not just deport them

The federal government has agreed “in principle” to act on all of the report’s 22 recommendations. Attracting most media coverage is the recommendation to introduce criminal penalties for deliberate and systemic exploitation. Employer groups oppose this.

But this debate should not distract us from other important principles that need action.

Of foremost importance is the principle of equality. The federal government’s response to the report rightly declares that all workers, no matter their background, should be able to work without fear of exploitation.

Here the report contains two crucial recommendations.

The first is to amend the Fair Work Act so it expressly states it covers........

© The Conversation