These days, many foreigners are persuaded to take a job on the side while on a backpacking trip in Australia, thinking that this strategy will help them earn some money while enjoying the local sights. However, instead of having access to fair wages, many of these foreign backpackers are falling prey to unscrupulous businesses.
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has revealed that too many foreign backpackers today are being ripped off. Just recently, it has opened up legal proceedings against a Tasmanian business owner for allegedly underpaying five backpackers. According to reports, underpaying backpackers is a part of a large scheme targeting those who are desperately trying to fulfil their sc417 visa obligations.
According to Craig Bilstein of the FWO, the five young backpackers from Italy, the United Kingdom, and Japan were paid as little as the equivalent of $1.35 an hour. Under normal circumstances, they should be receiving between $22 and $32 an hour, depending on their shift. This means that the Tasmanian business owed the backpackers almost $43,000 collectively.
The Tasmanian business owner is accused of “promising to sign off on an Italian woman’s 88-day regional stint requirement in 2013. He allegedly paid the Italian $272 for working for four weeks. When the inspectors from FWO came to check up on the business owner, he told them that the backpackers were guests or volunteers rather than workers.
If proven guilty, the Tasmanian business owner could pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines. According to Mr Bilstein, penalties for a breach of work conditions include fines of up to $10,400 for individuals and $51,000 for a company per contravention.
The sc417 visa allows those aged between 18 and 30 from 19 countries to work in Australia for one year with the possibility of extending their stay for another year if they work for 88 days in a regional area in specific industries such as agriculture and construction. While the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has made the visa application process less complex for applicants, it has failed to properly inform and educate visa holders about their work rights and what they should do if there is abuse. And what’s worse is that most sc417 visa holders are usually young and unable to communicate well in English. As a result, many of these backpackers are unaware of their rights and hardly in the position to legally defend themselves when they are being abused by their employers.