The findings applied to a wide range of industries but survey responses included cases of underpayment and even passport confiscation in the horticultural sector.
A recently published study from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has found one in three international students and backpackers in Australia are paid about half the legal minimum wage.
The authors of the report Wage theft in Australia said almost one in seven survey participants working in fruit and vegetable picking or packing, or in farm work, earned AUD$5 (US$3.79) or less per hour. Almost a third earned reported rates of AUD$10 (US$7.58) or less.
The standard hourly rate for fruit pickers is supposed to be AUD$22.13 (US$16.77) per hour, and with many farms offering variable payments based on the amount of fruit picked, rates can often be higher as well. However, in recent years there has been much controversy around unscrupulous labor hire contractors.
Of the 4,322 people surveyed for the report, 9% worked in horticulture.
Co-author Laurie Berg said wage theft was not confined to fruit and vegetable picking or convenience stores, and nor was it confined to any nationalities.
“A fifth of every nationality was paid around half the legal minimum wage. For almost 40% of students and backpackers, their lowest paid job was in a cafe, restaurant or takeaway.”
Berg says the study also shows international students and backpackers encounter conditions that may constitute criminal forced labor. Of the 91 people who reported having their passports confiscated by employers, 18% were involved in fruit or vegetable picking or farm labor.
The study found 173 respondents were required to pay upfront “deposits” of up to AUD$1,000 (US$758) to secure a job in Australia, while 112 respondents had been asked to pay money back to their employer in cash after receiving their wages.