Australia’s reliance on hidden slavery 59



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They’re in our convenience stores, picking fruit, packing shelves, washing dishes and hauling loads on building sites. You might think of them as foreign workers but look more closely – in many cases, they’re actually slaves.

If you think slavery was confined to history along with women not being allowed to vote, think again.

A report published by the Walk Free Foundation last year revealed that about 3000 people living in Australia were currently living in slavery.

“We’ve seen cases involving domestic workers who have been brought over effectively as unpaid labour, and also for the sexual gratification of people who bring them over,” WalkFree Foundation executive director of global research, Fiona David, told News Corp Australia.

“We’ve also had cases involving people working in restaurants, in construction, in retail, and the common feature of all them is that you have one person who is very vulnerable, and you have a second person who is willing to take advantage of them,” said Ms David.

This week, we saw convenience-store chain implicated in a Four Corners report that exposed chronic underpayment of workers, and the use of scare tactics to prevent foreign workers on student visas from complaining. Petrol station giant United Petroleum has also been embroiled in the scandal, with the ABC reporting franchisees admitted they paid workers well below the minimum wage.

Just a few months ago, we learned that Asian migrant workers with legal visas were being exploited in our food system, from picking in the fields to packing in the factories. Just about every big name brand was tainted by worker exploitation including Coles, Woolworths and Aldi supermarkets plus fast-food outlets KFC and Red Rooster.

“What is important to know is that slavery can happen in any context — meat packing, manufacturing retail, hospitality, marriage,” says Jenny Stanger, the national manager of the Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery.

“What we know officially is only one tenth of what the Walk Free Foundation has cited. As with any type of crime of this nature, this is only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

“People can be in those situations and people don’t have to be physically detained or locked away to be enslaved,” she said.

As the debate over the Free Trade Agreement with China and foreign labour continues, we have to ask ourselves, what do we actually want? On the one hand it seems many of our core industries rely on cheap workers, therefore we need them. But on the other, we want Aussie jobs and a fair pay for all.

Should Australian wages be lower? Our minimum wage is considered high by international standards. However Australia’s cost of living including housing is also high. The minimum wage must be a living wage, this is a foundation of a healthy society.

Most of us don’t raise our children and grandchildren with aspirations of working in convenience stores, fields or the bowels of kitchen and factories. We don’t want them working 16-hour days for sub-standard pays. So who will?

Let’s talk: Do you think Australia relies on modern slavery?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. no one should be paid less that the minimum wage in this country, it is up to Governments to monitor this, especially for women who are being used as sex workers.

  2. So many people go along with this, and not just foreign students and visa holders as in the group obviously targeted by 7-Eleven management.
    Employee fear of being unemployed means many employers are able to exploit workers and do so.
    No breaks, unpaid overtime etc are very common practices. The increasing trend to casualisation of employment makes this easier. The person who speaks up gets no or less shifts.
    Government protections for workers are minimal at best …almost none existent.

  3. Large food outlets like McDonald’s and KFC can still make a profit by paying award wages albeit they use a lot of young people under 18. It’s the smaller restaurants and cafes that exploit workers because they are under the radar and harder for unions and Govts to detect. The owners still make handsome profits.

  4. But don’t worry people! The “Captain” is going to make slavery legal when he allows China to flood the country with workers that no doubt will be payed substandard wages! This will be all fine till you get electrocuted by a light switch they’ve installed,because it was not necessary for them to be trained to Australian standards!!

    4 REPLY
    • well said, you wake up thinking, I ‘m still hovering around trying to remember where I put the coffee, I had better check the freezer 🙂

    • The other side of the coin labor-union strike for higher wages result industries close relocate overseas or make people redundant so they can pay higher wages result more unemployment .

    • Strikes over pay are rare these days Julie Ann Collins, most companies have work place agreements that are renegotiated at the time of expiry. Companies that move their facilities overseas may already have international concerns. Unfortunately we are not in a position to compete fir several reasons, we value safety which comes at a price and our pay rates are in line with the cost of living. It might take a while but many of these companies will face the same issues when the standards of living improve in those countries.

  5. Agree with Libby- the Govt have to monitor and maintain the minimum standards. Isn’t this how unions started – representation for people unable to advocate for themselves. Maybe they need to get back to grassroots and stop interfering in politics and interfering with productivity.

  6. All workers should be paid a fair wage, just look at the wealth of the owner of the 7/11 Franchise, gained from exploiting others, it’s disgusting.

  7. Unfortunately there will always be people who will exploit the weak and vulnerable. We need to be vigilant to protect these people. Good on this program for exposing these shameful people and organisations.

  8. Unfortunately Australians don’t seem to want to do fruit/vegetable picking and we as a country are used to relatively low commodity prices. We all have to be prepared to pay more.

    4 REPLY
    • Maybe that’s all propaganda and if not get the people on the dole to do it , that’s a gov organisation get the government to do there job for a change and what it cost the gov to run it would be cheaper than all the tax there missing out on with the slave labour camps all over Australia

    • One of the problems is the standard of accommodation provided is so far below acceptable standards that all but the absolutely desperate wouldn’t stay in it. Some of these fruit and vegetable growing regions need to have a critical look themselves and ask why people won’t go there. I know of nomads with their own campervans and caravans who do fruit picking but even they complain so many places have no facilities to hook up to electricity, no water available, no sumps for emptying the van toilets and no ablution block or laundry. You cannot expect people with no assets behind them to move into slum conditions to work for a pittance.

  9. The penalties for those exploiting workers need to be toughened up. Individuals should not be able to abdicate their responsibility hiding behind their business structure. If an employee steals from an employer the penalties can be quite severe with gaol terms. An employer might cop a fine of a few thousand dollars. Courts need to get tough and treat those exploiting others to the highest sentences allowed. I worked in a compliance area and too many people move assets around in their family, declare bankruptcy, and pay nothing of what is owed to employees. Some individuals are tracked and it can be seen they have done it several times. The penalties are pitiful.

  10. No this is not the kind of society I would want to live in. This exploitation is shocking and what it does to our standing globally I hate to think !

  11. This is how unions began, to protect the vunerable and to get better pay and working conditions for those people. The “Captain” if he gets his way will certainly bring this country to the brink and Australia will end up being a Third World country, on the poverty line.

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