ArticlePDF Available



Abstract and Figures

The exploitation of temporary migrant workers (TMWs) employed in Australia has been well documented by academics, government enquiries, and the Fair Work Ombudsman [FWO], the Federal government agency responsible for enforcing wage compliance. This article examines the ways in which temporary migrant workers access information about their employment rights, and how that access can be enhanced by utilising the social media platforms commonly used by temporary migrants, and tailoring the information to the needs of these workers. The analysis draws upon a national survey of temporary migrant workers, and focus groups of young Korean and Taiwanese workers.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Underhill, E., S. Huang, S. Yi and M. Rimmer
Using Social Media to Improve Temporary Migrant WorkersAccess to
Information About their Employment Rights
Journal of Australian Political Economy
No. 84, pp. 147-74.
Elsa Underhill, Sherry Huang, Sohoon Yi and
Malcolm Rimmer
The exploitation of temporary migrant workers (TMWs) employed in
Australia has been well documented by academics, government enquiries,
and the Fair Work Ombudsman [FWO], the Federal government agency
responsible for enforcing wage compliance. That exploitation
encompasses underpayment of wages through to unpaid wages, and
includes exposure to occupational health and safety risks, sexual
harassment, overcrowded and unhygienic accommodation facilities, wage
deduction scams, and a failure to provide income support to injured TMWs
(Doyle and Howes 2015; Australian Senate 2016; FWO 2016; Mares
2016; Underhill and Rimmer 2016; Victorian Government 2016; Berg and
Farbenblum 2017; Clibborn 2018; Howe et al. 2018). In horticulture, the
rapid increase in TMWs following the expansion of the Working Holiday
Visa scheme in 2005, and the expansion in the supply of undocumented
workers has combined to produce a workforce which is easily exploited.
Rural employment has traditionally been difficult for trade unions to
organise, and these difficulties are compounded with TMWs, many of
whom face significant language barriers and have a poor understanding of
Australian employment rights.
Despite exposure to information about the extent of TMW exploitation
(Australian Senate 2016), the Australian government has resisted most
proposals to curtail employersabusive employment practices. It has
amended the Fair Work Act (Fair Work Amendment [protecting vulnerable
workers] 2017) to increase penalties for systematic underpayment of
wages, to enhance the FWOs investigative powers, and to impose greater
responsibility upon franchising corporations for franchiseesbreaches,
potentially improving employment conditions for TMWs but only when
employed by franchises (Clibborn and Wright 2018). However, it has yet
to implement recommendations of a Migrant Workers Taskforce
(Commonwealth of Australia 2019) which it established following
widespread negative publicity. It has also been opposed to stringent
licensing standards for labour hire contractors (Australian Senate 2016).
State governments in Australia do not have responsibility for enforcing
employment standards established under Federal laws. However, in
response to one Federal and two State government enquiries, the
Queensland and Victorian State Labor governments introduced labour hire
licensing schemes in 2018/19 to curtail the worst examples of exploitation
experienced by TMWs employed by labour hire operators. The Victorian
government in particular has a strong incentive to improve employment
outcomes for TMWs. A FWO Report (2016) found that TMWs working in
regional Victoria were significantly more dissatisfied than those employed
in other states, with 42% reporting underpayments compared to 28%
across Australia, and 21% reporting a negative regional experience
compared to 16% across Australia. Victoria has the second largest crop of
vegetables, fruit and nuts in Australia (by value, ABARES 2015/16), and
relies substantially upon TMWs to harvest that output. The Victorian
government needs to ensure TMWs are not discouraged by the higher
levels of employment exploitation occurring in Victoria. Also, over
200,000 international students study in Victoria (32% of the national
intake of international students) and are an important source of low skilled
labour for urban employers, such as the hospitality industry (Victorian
Government 2018a). The State government invested $4 million in an
International Student Welfare Program to support that export industry
(Victorian Government 2018a); it is now complementing that support with
a program focused upon supporting their employment rights.
In 2018 the Victorian government established a Victorian Wage
Inspectorate although its powers are limited to enforcing state employment
laws such as long service leave, and will not directly benefit TMWs in the
short-term (Victorian Government 2019). During the 2018 Victorian
election campaign the government announced the introduction of criminal
sanctions for wage theft, as well as reductions in the cost and time taken
to pursue lost wages (Victorian government 2018a). However, as the first
of these is intended to cover wage theft occurring under Federal laws, the
constitutionality of such a move has been questioned (Kennedy 2018) and
the legislation is yet to be finalised. Finally, the Victorian government has
recently turned its attention to ways in which TMWs could more readily
access and understand information about their employment rights. This
includes improving communication about employment rights for TMWs,
and funding community legal centres to provide pro-bono legal aid to
aggrieved TMWs. Understanding employment rights, however, is not
sufficient to ensure workers will receive their lawful entitlements, nor that
they will act once they become aware that their rights have been breached.
The systemic nature of exploitation of TMWs in Australia, as well as
evidence of wage theft more generally, calls for more substantial,
fundamental change to address the widening disparity in power between
employers, workers and trade unions. Nevertheless, without knowledge of
employment rights, the process for individuals to take action on their own
behalf cannot even begin. This article deals with the effective
dissemination of such information.
The research presented in this article provided the ground work for the
Victorian governments development of a digital communication strategy
which would enable TMWs, especially young Asian TMWs, to use digital
communication to enhance their knowledge about employment rights. The
research targeted the largest groups of TMWs in Victoria Working
Holiday Visa holders and international students. It focused upon how
TMWs use social media in their everyday communication, and in gaining
information about jobs and employment rights. It also examined TMWs
current knowledge of available sources of employment rights information,
and the obstacles they faced in accessing and understanding that
information. Lastly, it asked TMWs how such information media could
be tailored to meet their needs. The research offers a unique perspective
on employment rights amongst TMWs because it looks beyond the
common but incorrect assumption that the translation of existing
employment rights information is sufficient to meet TMWsneeds. It
draws upon TMWsexperience with employment rights information, and
their preferred methods of accessing such information, to provide an
understanding of how best to reach and communicate with TMWs. The
findings offer guidance to government agencies, trade unions and other
advocacy organisations seeking to support and potentially mobilise these
The article commences with a review of the literature on why TMWs are
willing to work for below minimum wages, extending to impediments to
taking action to recover lost wages. This is important because improving
information about employment rights, as a first step towards enforcing
those rights, is most likely to succeed if a lack of TMW knowledge has
contributed to their acceptance of below minimum wages. A multimethod
research methodology was used to access the views of TMWs, and this is
described in section three. The data findings are then analysed,
commencing with an overview of the demographic characteristics of the
sample followed by an examination of how TMWs use social media to
communicate; the sources of information about employment rights upon
which TMWs rely; problems they encounter with existing information
sources; and how they would prefer to receive information about
employment rights. Because TMWs of Asian origin encounter
significantly greater language barriers than other TMWs in Australia, the
analysis distinguishes between those of Asian origin, and other
nationalities, where appropriate. The conclusion discusses the important
role social media can play in reaching these young workers who are
heavily dependent upon social media for communication and information
about jobs. However, the effective use of social media rests upon careful
design in relation to choice of languages, ensuring jargon free content, and
providing sign-posts to the legitimacy of the sources of the information to
overcome distrust by TMWs. It must also be targeted in such a way as to
disrupt the inaccurate informal communication channels which TMWs
currently use.
Why do TMWs accept below minimum wages and
Research on TMWs working in Australian horticulture shows both a high
level of dissatisfaction with their employment conditions and an awareness
of their exploitation. Comments such as Some farmers treat/see their
workers not as humans, more as slaves and long hours for terrible pay
(Underhill 2014; Underhill and Rimmer 2017) are common amongst
TMW horticulture workers. Large-scale surveys have found TMWs are
aware they are underpaid although not necessarily aware of the quantum
of that underpayment. An FWO (2016) survey found 35% of Working
Holiday Makers (WHMs) across industries reported being underpaid,
whilst Berg and Farbenblum (2017: 34) found around three quarters of
TMWs earning $15 or less per hour (predominantly WHMs and
international students) knew they were underpaid.
Why then do TMWs accept underpayment of wages? The research
literature identifies several explanations. Piores (1979) dual frame of
reference has been widely drawn upon, whereby temporary migrants
compare their host country wages with home country standards, resulting
in those from low income countries viewing host country wages as
acceptable (Clibborn 2018; Campbell et al. 2019 citing Piore 1979).
Clibborn (2018) extends this analysis to incorporate multiple frames of
reference amongst international students whose social contact
predominantly involves international student peers, similarly underpaid.
The students in Clibborns (2018) study had negligible direct home
country employment experience to reference but were well aware of
similar experiences of international students in Australia. In this way,
underpayments were accepted and normalised. Low earnings were viewed
as inevitable, and employment itself regarded as positive given the
potential obstacles to gaining work in a foreign country and the large
supply of TMWs (notably international students) seeking employment in
capital city locations (Clibborn 2018; Manolchev and Teigen 2019).
Barriers to employment in minimum wage jobs also contribute to TMWs
likelihood of accepting sub-standard employment. Language constraints
make working for co-ethnic employers an attractive option, even though
TMWs enter these jobs knowing that conditions will be below minimum
standards (Li 2017; Clibborn 2018). Others argue that TMWs have no
choice but to accept below minimum wage jobs because of their visa status
and lack of access to social security and support (Ruhs 2013; May et al.
2007) Visa limitations on employment can result in TMWs knowingly
breaching their visa conditions in order to sustain their stay in Australia.
In doing so, they simultaneously close off options to litigate against
underpayments fearing the threat of deportation (Li and Whitworth 2016).
Adopting a less deterministic perspective, Axelsson et al. (2017)
emphasise the importance of understanding the longer-term objectives of
temporary migrants: low wages are a trade-off for the promise of access to
a more preferred visa or permanent residency status. Campbell et als
(2019) findings in a study of underpaid Italian TMWs in Australia supports
Axelsson et al.’s analysis, finding that the acceptance of underpayments
was suggestive of a short-term expedient […] a transitory stage in a life-
course project(Campbell et al. 2019: 112) although the threat of employer
reprisals was also identified as a disincentive to complaints about
Also important, and extending beyond explanations specific to TMWs, is
the normalisation of systemic non-compliance which is evident in
industries such as horticulture and hospitality (Tham and Fudge 2019;
FWO 2016). In these industries, non-compliance is so widespread that
TMWs (along with locals) are likely to accept below-minimum wages
because that is all that is on offer in the types of jobs they are qualified to
perform (Li 2017).
There are also practical impediments to TMWs taking action to recover
lost wages. Farbenblum and Berg (2018) examined why TMWs in
Australia do not take action when confronted with underpayments. Of
those who had been underpaid, only 9% had tried to recover lost wages
and of these, 67% recovered nothing; a further 46% did not try to do so.
The most important impediment to taking action was lack of capacity,
competence or knowledge about how to recover wages’: not knowing what
to do (42%), the belief that it was too much work to do so (35%), and
insufficient English language skills (15%). Others have also identified an
absence of knowledge about unions and the FWO (FECCA 2015; Reilly
et al. 2017); a belief that taking such action will not produce results (Reilly
et al. 2017); and cultural impediments whereby compliance and obedience
is expected (Howe 2016). The problems TMWs face were aptly
summarised by Farbenblum and Berg (2017: 13): Language, culture and
other structural barriers impede migrant workersability to navigate
information sources or articulate and pursue formal claims in any forum’.
Instead, respondents were more likely to seek assistance from sources
other than formal institutions (such as the FWO or trade unions) when
seeking advice on redress, consistent with overseas studies that find
minority groups turn to their own community for advice (Holgate et al.
2012). Yet other impediments, such as legal processes taking too long and
requiring too much time to pursue, given TMWsrelatively short stay in
Australia, point to the difficulties TMWs face in a complaints-based
reporting system. As Li (2016) and Campbell et al. (2019) have pointed
out, TMWs may prefer to simply find another job when faced with wage
Social media and TMWs
Information and communication technology (ICT), such as social media,
is an important medium for information and support amongst migrant
workers, especially in the early period after arrival in the host country
(Chen and Choi 2011; Thompson 2009; Chib, Wilkin and Hua 2013). It is
especially important for young TMWs whose demographic group has been
termed digital nativesby Palfrey and Gasser (2013). Predominantly aged
under 30 years - a visa criteria for Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) in
Australia (ABS 2019) they have grown up with digital communication.
Studies of international students, for example, have identified a high level
of ICT usage, including communicating with peers in their host country
who could offer critical information, assistance and support (Lim and
Pham 2016). ICT removes the need for structured time and place
communication, does not require TMWs to have transportation to attend
information sessions, and enables them to seek information anonymously,
reducing the risk of shame and stigma associated with seeking help or
saying the wrong thing(Chen and Choi 2011: 1071). But it can also
contribute to what Lim and Pham (2016) termed cultural siloswhereby
ease of ICT communication with co-nationals resulted in more intense use
of co-national communication rather than assimilation with host country
nationals (Lim and Pham 2016). Most young TMWs in Australia are
educated, having come to Australia to further their studies (international
students), or having already completed tertiary studies in their home
country (WHMs). This demographic rely upon this connected space for
virtually all of the information they need to live their lives(Palfrey and
Gasser, 2013: 6). Developing an effective means of better using this
technology to support TMWs in their employment has the potential to
provide a means to ameliorate the extent of exploitation experienced by
these TMWs.
This study used a sequential multi-method approach to discover the views
of young TMWs, especially those of Asian origin who were considered
most disadvantaged in accessing existing channels of workplace rights
information. Focus groups of young Korean and Taiwanese/Hong Kong
TMWs were conducted, followed by a national online survey. Four focus
groups were held: two in Melbourne (the capital city of Victoria) to elicit
information from TMWs employed in urban jobs mainly in the hospitality
sector; and two in regional Victoria, for TMWs employed in meat
processing and horticulture. These industries have a high proportion of
TMWs, especially WHMs and international students (Tham and Fudge
2019; Berg and Farbenblum 2017; Underhill and Rimmer 2016) and have
a reputation for poor compliance with employment laws (FWO 2016;
Commonwealth of Australia 2019).
The focus groups were conducted in Korean and Chinese (two in each
language) to overcome potential English language barriers (in December
2017). Thirty-two participants attended (21 Korean, 9 Taiwanese and 2
from Hong Kong); 16 in Melbourne and 16 in regional Victoria. The focus
groups were facilitated, recorded, transcribed and translated by bi-lingual
members of the research team with a high level of expertise on the topics
under discussion. The focus groups concentrated upon digital
communication methods commonly used by TMWs, problems
encountered with existing ICT materials servicing TMWs, and how the
government could best communicate with TMWs in the future.
Participants were provided with a retail gift card as a reward for attending.
An online survey was then developed with questions enquiring into which
online platforms TMWs use for social activities, how they use online
sources for job search, knowledge about basic employment rights and
where that information was acquired, their experience with the FWO
digital platform (as an exemplar for online employment rights
information), and how TMWs would like to be informed of their
employment rights. The online survey was offered in five languages
(English, Chinese (simple and traditional), Korean and Malay) and
available for 2 ½ months (December 2017 February 2018). The
information on ICT use gathered from focus groups facilitated the
construction of a number of online survey questions regarding ICT
options, enabling a number of closed answer questions that could be easily
and quickly completed by respondents. The survey was advertised at select
backpacker hostels, supermarkets in regional towns, through online sites
where potential respondents found jobs, on about 45 Facebook groups
used by TMWs, and through the Taiwan Working Holiday Youth (T-WHY)
and Korean Working Holiday Youth (KOWHY) Facebooks sites which
have a large number of TMW followers. International student associations
were also approached, but the timing of the survey coincided with the
university Christmas break, limiting reach into international student
cohorts. Respondents were invited to participate in a draw for ten A$100
egift cards. The survey received 416 usable responses (after data cleaning)
from TMWs across Australia, of which 26% responded in Korean and
Chinese languages.
Data analysis
This section commences with a summary of the demographic
characteristics of survey respondents, followed by analysis of survey and
focus groups responses regarding the everyday use of ICT and its role in
job search, and accessing information about employment rights. The FWO
online platform provides an example of a website intended to inform
workers about their rights, and TMWs experience with this website is
examined next. The section concludes with an account of TMWs preferred
means for the provision of employment rights information.
Demographic characteristics
The majority of survey respondents came from Asian countries (59%),
followed by EU citizens (33%). Their average age was 25.7 years,
reflecting WHM visa requirements and the typical age of international
tertiary students. These TMWs were well educated, with just over half of
the sample holding a university degree, consistent with the WHM visa
offering a form of gap yearto young workers who travel after completing
a degree, before returning home to commence their professional careers.
Asian respondents were the most highly educated, with 58% holding
university degrees. Most respondents had been in Australia less than one
year (mean 8.15 months), with 76% holding WHM visas and 11%
international student visas.
Turning to employment, more than one third were employed in
horticulture (31%) and meat processing (8%, all of whom were Asian) at
the time of the survey. Employment in these sectors can qualify TMWs for
a second year WHM visa. Of those employed in the service/hospitality
sectors (32%), Asian respondents were more likely to be working in back
of housejobs (kitchen hands, cleaning) compared to other nationalities
employed as waiters, bar persons and baristas. This job segregation is
likely to reflect differences in English language skills. English language
comprehension was significantly lower for respondents of Asian origin.
Over one-quarter struggled to understand written English (26%) whilst 2%
could not understand written English at all. In contrast, 80% of those from
the EU (excluding UK/Ireland) agreed they could read English fluently
although a small minority (3%) stated that they struggled with written
English. This language constraint, most notably for Asian TMWs, has
significant flow on effects for how and where TMWs access information
about their employment rights.
Online communication with friends and family
As was expected, TMWs are highly dependent upon online
communication to stay in touch with their friends and family, to search for
jobs, and to search for other information on matters such as employment
rights. Survey respondents were asked which social media platforms they
used to communicate with friends and how frequently they used such sites.
Reliance upon Facebook for communication was pervasive; 69% of
respondents used Facebook on a daily basis (72% of Asian respondents
and 64% of other nationalities). The equivalent Chinese language
platform, Line, was also used daily by 98% of Taiwanese respondents,
whilst 93% of Korean respondents used the Korean language site Kakotalk
daily. For non-Asians, Facebook Messenger was also an important means
of communication with friends (66% used it daily). This high usage of
social media is consistent with other studies of migrant workers and ICT.
Platforms such as Facebook not only enable communication with friends
and peers but also, as discussed next, offer information about jobs, and
employment rights.
Online job search
Almost half of the respondents found their current job online (40% of
Asian respondents; 49% of other nationalities). Facebook was used in job
search by 36% of all respondents (irrespective of nationality), however the
most commonly used platform was (60%). Non-Asians
(87%) were more than twice as likely as Asian respondents (41%) to use, possibly because of a requirement that jobs on this site be
advertised in English although translations can also be included in job
advertisements. Asian respondents instead turned to platforms in their
own language, with 30% of Chinese speakers using,
and the majority of Korean speakers using Hojubada and Hojunara to
locate work. Online advertisements in the home country language of
TMWs have been identified in other research as useful sources of job
information but are also often associated with jobs offering below
minimum wages. A survey of 200 such advertisements (using Chinese,
Korean and Spanish languages) conducted by UnionsNSW in 2019
revealed 97% of hospitality and 85% of retail job advertisements offered
work at around 60% of the award hourly rate of pay (UnionsNSW 2017).
TMWs of Asian origin prefer, or need, to access platforms in their own
language when seeking employment; but this limits their job opportunities
to reliance on co-ethnic employers. It also limits their contact with workers
of other nationalities who may be better informed abut employment rights.
Asian TMWs do not necessarily restrict their job search to online
platforms. An equally important source for job information is informal
networks. Forty percent of Asian respondents relied upon friends and other
travellers to find their current employment; only 15% of all other
nationalities used such contacts. Focus group participants described how
these informal networks lead to employment:
A friend was working there [at a restaurant] and said that they
had a vacancy, 2-3 days per week and you can pay the rent, so I
I know someone here and through him I found a job as a
dishwasher. I was paid $14 cash in hand
Through a worker that I met there [in Mildura], I found a local
contractor in Mildura.
Reliance upon informal networks provides a very tangible demonstration
of how limited frames of reference contribute to acceptance of below
minimum wage jobs by TMWs. Informal networks allow TMWs to avoid
English language job sites where they are less likely to be successful in
seeking work, whilst their friendsprior experience contribute to the
expectation that these jobs are of an acceptable standard. Friends are a
more trusted and convenient source of job information than online
Lastly, a small number of focus group participants also found their current
employment through agencies in their home country, including education
agencies in South Korea that arranged for their employment with labour
hire companies in Victoria.
I came through an education agency and went to meat factory
program’. I went to Warrnambool
These types of agencies appear unique amongst Asian TMWs, and are
especially problematic because of the higher risk of exploitation. TMWs
gaining employment in Australia through these agencies encounter
extreme levels of isolation from the Australian community. They are
recruited, housed and employed through a single organisation and their
contact with locals is limited to fellow workers of whom there will be few
in meat processing and horticulture. In a minority of cases, church groups
reach out to these workers to offer social support, but not support for
employment related issues.
Online platforms and information about employment rights
When seeking information about employment rights, 80% of survey
respondents used the internet, irrespective of nationality. Almost 40% of
Asian respondents also asked their friends for information compared to
only 31% of all other nationalities (multiple responses were allowed). This
reliance upon informal sources was also evident in the way Asian TMWs
obtained information about the minimum wage in their current job. Whilst
all groups of TMWs claimed they knew the minimum wage for their
current job, Asian respondents were more likely to have acquired this
information from friends (37% compared to 12% of other nationalities)
rather than official sources such as the FWO (18% compared to 25% of
non-Asians). The poor quality of information about employment rights
disseminated within these networks (see below) means misinformation is
commonly shared. The Chinese language Facebook site T-WHY, on the
other hand, was also used by 14% of Asian respondents. This site is
facilitated by a volunteer who is also a union organiser, and provides a
higher level of accurate information than the informal non-English
networks. It is also the only online interactive site available for TMWs
seeking employment rights information in Chinese language.
Notwithstanding claimed knowledge about the minimum wage, most
TMWs earnt less than the hourly minimum rate for an unskilled casual
worker, with 50% earning less than AUD$20 per hour. Of those that
conceded they did not know the minimum wage, just under half said they
did not know where to look or who to ask to find out. Another 25% (30 or
7% of the total sample) said they had not tried to establish what the
minimum wage was because they did not expect to receive it. These
findings are consistent with earlier studies of TMWs (eg. Clibborn 2018;
Farbenblum and Berg 2018; Underhill and Rimmer 2016) and highlight
the extent to which below minimum wages have become the norm for
many TMWs.
Also consistent with other research on urban TMWs (Clibborn 2018; Li
2017), being paid the legal minimum wage was less important than being
paid an appropriatewage, illustrated by comments from focus group
you look at the market and figure out what people are generally
paid. And if you are paid more than that its a good pay, and if
youre paid less then you need to go somewhere else
I just see if Im getting the same wages as the others and think
that its OK
When you ask them did you ever search the minimum wages or
their employment right, they will all say no. But they will discuss
with friends or either read an online forum and believe whatever
it says! However, when you ask them if they have search some
information from the authorities, the government website, FWO?
They will all say never.
These lower expectations reflect a pragmatic acceptance of how the labour
market operates to limit choices for TMWs. TMWs with limited local job
experience and weak English language skills, seeking work in an
overcrowded labour market will accept the going ratenotwithstanding
that it is below the legal minimum. Higher paid positions are simply not
on offer.
Whilst the majority of survey respondents searched the internet for
information about employment rights, it is clear the information they
acquire does not assist them in finding jobs that comply with minimum
employment standards. Turning to focus group participants, very few
sought information about employment rights from government agencies.
The FWO was mostly unknown, and most had a poor understanding of
their workplace rights. They were not familiar with the term award rates
of payand few understood the meaning of penalty rates’. Some were
familiar with the concept of an industrial accident in their home country,
but not workerscompensation in Victoria. Whilst some spoke of written
employment contracts including these terms, written contracts were
uncommon; simply being told about these entitlements did not result in an
understanding of their meaning.
The FWO established a Facebook site in 2011 which provides for
interactive informing sharing about employment rights, however focus
group participants were not aware of it, and survey respondents did not
report accessing it. Critically, the FWO site is only presented in English.
As noted above, more than a quarter of Asian TMWs struggle to
understand written English, creating a major impediment to accessing
employment information provided on English language sites such as the
FWO Facebook site. Even those with reasonable English comprehension
fall back on websites in their native tongue when seeking employment
information (see below). Focus group participants and Asian survey
respondents expressed frustration at the barriers they faced in trying to
access information about their employment rights through digital
platforms. These barriers lead them to turn instead to informal sources of
information, including friends, acquaintances and house mates.
Barriers encountered with employment information platforms
In addition to the FWO Facebook site, the FWO operates a website which
is the only Australian government funded website that provides
information about employment rights. Yet most TMWs in this study were
not aware of it, and only 28% of all survey respondents had accessed it
(22% Asian, 36% other nationalities). As an exemplar, the experience of
those that had used the site points to ways in which similar sites could be
developed to better inform TMWs of their employment rights. The most
common likes and dislikes of survey respondents who had experienced the
FWO site are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Summary of common likes and dislikes of the Fair
Work Ombudsman website
Asian respondents Other respondents (multiple
Liked most about FWO site
Being able to check work rights
such as
minimum pay, break
times, tax, sick leave policy
All of the information is clear and
together on one website
Updated information Easy to use, easy to find what I am
looking for; information is easily
Very clean and easy to understand
layout wit
h many practical links
on the home page
Lots of information, good layout,
easy to navigate
Pay calculator Pay calculator
Contact details Contact details
More trustworthy than the internet
or acquaintances Helps me find a good farmer who
looks after their pickers
Learning about my rights and
being able to report
underpayment, tax avoidance and
unpaid super about a previous
employer I have whilst in
Liked least about FWO site
It was written too complicated. I
do not know what the awards are Complex vocabulary; it is hard to
find your award if your company
t tell you or you have no
idea what industry you are
working in
Its all English, very challenging
for those with poor English;
Resources in my native language
are limited
Complicated questions when
using the pay calculator
So complicated and there are so
many links to follow up to get the
information I want
It is sometime hard to get the
information (find where it is)
Too many details
Not enough information about
rates and loading. I had
never heard of these things before
starting work in Australia!
s difficult to understand its
Very confusing, not easy to
understand. Especially if someone
isnt good in English, but also for
English native speakers (law
Did not illustrate or provide
enough info about piece rates
which is quite common on farms
They offer very little help to get
employers to pay you; I think the
website is great but the leg work
finding the farms treating us like
slaves needs improvement
Source: Survey responses to open-ended questions.
The FWO website was well regarded by most TMWs with sound English
language skills, who benefited from the high level of detail provided.
However even some of these respondents were unfamiliar with the
technical and legal terms and this impeded their understanding and use of
information. Those who struggled with written English, irrespective of
nationality, found the site impenetrable. Information about employment
rights was inaccessible because there was too much to read; it was too
difficult to understand; and too technical the language used prevented
TMWs from finding the information they sought.
The pay calculator, which provides a step-by-step process for calculating
wage entitlements, was highly regarded by those able to use it. However,
too many could not utilise it because of jargon compounded by poor
English comprehension. The pay calculator assumes a knowledge of
Australian employment terminology, such as awards, casual employment
and the like, which is not grounded in the reality of TMWscapacities.
A major consequence of the incomprehensibility of the FWO site is that
Asian TMWs turn away from a trusted site to other less reliable sources of
information, most notably friends. Whilst much of the FWO site is now
available in multiple languages, the most valued component the pay
calculator is not. Also, feedback from Asian workers who have accessed
the translated FWO site report that the quality of translations is too poor
for it to be comprehensible.
Other digital platforms were accessed by Asian TMWs seeking
employment rights information, but without success. The barriers they
encountered included:
The thing about online information, is most of them are English,
no one like to read it. I will use Facebook group or line group if
I have any WHV [Working Holiday Visa] related questions
google key word, if the link is English I will skip
I use google key word search as well. But the thing is I use
Chinese language to search, and the results are all in Chinese,
not very helpful. A lot of information is related to travel or life,
for instance, if you search where can I find cheap SIM cardyou
will find a lot of result. However, almost none of it is related to
working rights issues.
For me, information is too vast, it was too much to find and I
found it overwhelming. So I asked around and that made things
And the language is […] for example you ask about 1, and they
say its 2 and 3 and 4 […] Its all different and you dont know
which ones right […] its best to hear it from someone with an
experience who gives a more accurate answer.
TMWs without sound English language comprehension are caught in a
catch-22 when it comes to searching the internet for information about
employment rights. English language sites provided by Australian sources
are too complex to understand, whilst searching online in their own
language does not yield relevant or reliable results.
Can ICT be better used to provide information to TMWs
about employment rights?
Notwithstanding the barriers to accessing information about employment
rights on existing platforms, TMWs rely heavily upon ICT more generally
and would like better information to be available through this medium.
Table 2 gives survey respondents preferred methods for accessing
information about employment rights. There is a general hunger for
accurate employment rights information: whatever options presented were
seized upon. The first three options listed in Table 2 were strongly
supported by TMWs of all nationalities. These include more traditional
delivery methods such as being provided with information in their own
language when applying for a visa. Almost 90% of respondents supported
dissemination of information in this way, although focus group
participants cautioned that the situation is such that there are lot of
unknown variables […] you come here, come to know something, and
things change […] you need to experience it first hand here’. A
government website with multilingual PDF fact sheets received a similar
level of support, and a government sponsored Question and Answer,
Frequently Asked Questions (Q&A/FAQ) blog where TMWs could ask
simple employment related questions, in their own language was also
favoured by most. As a focus group participant explained ‘Q&A or FAQ
could also be very useful we all have the same questions over and over
again, so it would be great if the answers were in simple language and all
in the one place, with links to relevant info […]. Suggestions included
that these blogs have a language schedule’. For example, questions asked
in Chinese could be answered on Mondays and Wednesdays, in Korean on
Tuesdays and Thursday and the like. TMWs would then know when to
access the blog in their native language. Such services would enable
TMWs to seek answers to specific problems without having to search
through multiple online links in a language they struggle to understand.
Underpinning these positive responses to multilingual information sources
is the assumption that translations will be of sufficient quality, and be
sufficiently explanatory and jargon free that they are comprehensible.
Table 2: TMWs preferred methods for finding out about
employment rights
Preferred method Asian All other
nationalities Total
No. % No. % No. %
Provision of information, in
my language, when applying
for a visa
202 87.4 138 89 340 88.1
Government website with
multilingual PDF fact sheets 198 89.2 131 88.5 329 88.9
Q&A blog on a government
website, with answers
provided for all to see
178 84.8 111 79.9 289 82.8
Links to information websites
on job search sites 199 90 85 59.4 284 78
Links to information websites
on social media sites 185 87.3 79 55.2 264 74.4
Online links to information
websites, placed on
backpacker hostel sites
165 78.2 89 64 254 72.6
A government website with
multilingual video clips 178 82.8 101 72.7 279 78.8
A government website with
links to trade union websites,
explaining which is most
relevant to current job
181 85.4 97 70.8% 278 79.7%
‘Livechatservice on
government website 156 75.7 82 57.7 238 68.4
An app with information in
multiple languages 174 83.7 100 71.9 274 79
Note: 2 (1, N= 364) = 47.42, p < .000; 2. 2 (1, N= 355) = 45.93, p < .000; 3. 2
(1, N= 350) = 8.45, p < .01; 4. 2 (1, N= 354) = 5.19, p < .05; 5. 2 (1, N= 349) =
10.91, p < .01; 6. 2 (1, N= 348) = 12.57, p < .000; 7. 2 (1, N= 347) = 6.88, p
< .01
Responses to all other preferred methods listed in Table 2 differed
significantly between Asian and other nationalities, with a clear pattern
emerging amongst Asian TMW responses. They would prefer information
about employment rights to be provided in easily accessible locations:
where they search for jobs, search for accommodation, and on social media
sites. The accessibility of such locations was demonstrated back in 2015
when the FWO advertised its services on Over 14 days,
their advertisement received 1,898 clicks (FWO, 2016). Unfortunately,
commercial firms with similar titles also advertise on this site, potentially
creating confusion for TMWs with poor English language skills.
Whilst there was support for the development of a tailored government
website, others were less enthusiastic because, as a focus group participant
commented Even if the government develop the website we wont know,
just like FWO, no one knows’. Focus group participants also suggested the
placement of a government logo on all official sites to provide a filter to
TMWs needing assurance that the information could be trusted. As one
explained It’s not clear who to trust here there are heaps of websites
and blogs out there which provide wrong information and people tend to
believe them’. Similarly, there are a lot of information online, seems a bit
overwhelming. I cant tell which farm is cash in hand, or legitimate, I cant
tell’. Focus groups also highlighted the value of a livechatservice (less
well supported by survey respondents) whereby simple questions could be
responded to in real time. Like support for a blog, the preference for a
livechat service derives from the frustration of working through complex
websites where the answers to simple, common questions are out of reach.
TMWs preferred methods for accessing information about their
employment rights emphasise the importance of own-language, simple
and convenient access points, and interactivity in the form of being able to
ask direct questions about their employment circumstances. And TMWs
need to know that the information exists, unlike the current situation with
respect to the FWO. How best can this awareness be promoted? With more
than 70% of respondents using social media on a daily basis, providing a
multilingual social media site located on Facebook (because of its current
high level of usage) would provide wide reach into the communities which
are currently excluded. Online links from job sites, and other commonly
used sites such as backpacker hostels and Korean and Taiwanese social
media platforms would further expand reach. The FWO have such a site,
except it is only in English and therefore not suited to many TMWs.
Nevertheless, their site has more than 130,000 followers at the time of
writing. Both Taiwanese and Korean TMWs in Australia have established
popular Chinese and Korean language Facebook sites which promote
employment rights, but these sites are run by volunteers without the
resources available to governments. The most comprehensive example is
provided in the Canadian province of Quebec, where the Commission des
normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail established a
bilingual Facebook site to provide information about employment rights
(CNESST, nd), which at the time of writing has over 56,000 followers.
CNESST use this site to provide information, to promote events and to
answer questions posted by those with employment concerns. They also
post very short videos every week on particular employment issues. Some
of these videos have been viewed more than 60,000 times. This site offers
many of the services which our survey respondents said they preferred as
a means of finding out about their employment rights, including Questions
and Answers, and instructive videos.
Facebook, notwithstanding recent controversies, offers a particularly
powerful tool for governments, trade unions or TMW advocates seeking
to reach TMWs. Its benefit as a medium for employment rights
information include users not having to learn how it works, nor having to
pay fees to access information. Gaby and Caren (2012) found pictures and
videos were the most successful mediums for drawing in new users to
social media sites, demonstrated by the rapid spread of the Occupy
Movement through Facebook. They also found that the most popular posts
were not placed by orchestrators but involved user-created content. This
suggests that developing such a site for TMWs may need to provide for
user-created content to retain an interest including for example photos of
good and bad working conditions, information about wage rates on
specific farms, stories about experience with reasonable piece rates for
picking particular fruit/vegetables and the like, as well as Q&A/FAC
materials. User interaction offers a stronger likelihood of engaging and
drawing TMWs back to, and sharing the site. Using such a site as a
traditional communication tool (by, for example, limiting its role to
offering PDF downloadable information sheets) is likely to reduce its
impact and breadth of reach into the TMW community (Fitzgerald et al.
Whilst the infrastructure already exits, organisations still need to invest
considerable resources to keep a site continually updated to attract existing
users back and draw in new users. And such sites must address the
language barriers which are common on all government websites.
Automatic translation services are inadequate where interactivity is
required in the language of the TMWs. Providing links to other sources of
support on a Facebook site may also enable important links for TMWs.
Fitzgerald et al. (2012), for example found that the uploading of union
information on a Polish communitys website in the UK led to Poles both
in the UK and Poland contacting the website, and provided an important
link between unions and the Polish community. Finally, TMWs are keen
to access government provided information because they regard it as
trustworthy. A simple solution proposed by Asian TMWs is to ensure all
government provided information is readily identifiable through the
inclusion of the government logo, such as the coat of arms. Simple links
so identified could provide a pathway to much sought information.
Young TMWs in Australia are intense users of ICT. They use social media
for communicating with friends and family on an almost daily basis, and
they turn to the internet when searching for jobs. But ICT does not meet
all of the needs of TMWs with respect to job search, particularly TMWs
without strong English language skills. These TMWs are predominantly
Asian, of whom almost 30% in this study struggled to understand written
English. Their lack of English comprehension does not prevent them from
finding employment because jobs are available through online platforms
in their own language, and jobs are located through networks of friends.
But this relatively closed circle based on language and ethnicity
contributes to what Lim and Pham (2016) describe as the cultural silo
effect of the ease of communication amongst co-ethnics which ICT
encourages. Their lack of English comprehension, however, creates a
barrier to seeking information about employment rights. It is too difficult
to search online for employment rights information because English
language websites are too difficult to understand, and they dont know
which websites can be trusted. Most TMWs in this study were not aware
of the FWO website and the one in five Asian TMWs that accessed the site
struggled to use it. The information was too legalistic, too complex and
too jargon ridden. Translations installed on the FWO site have not
removed these barriers. Searching online for employment rights
information in their own language fails to produce relevant information
because, with the exception of T-WHY and KOWHY, such online
information sources do not exist. As a consequence, Asian TMWs seeking
employment rights information turn to their friends and colleagues who
are likely to be equally poorly informed, if not misinformed.
Yet despite this predicament, TMWs want more information about their
employment rights, and would prefer that information to be provided
online. Drawing upon the views of TMWs in this study, it is clear that ICT
can be used effectively to inform TMWs and disrupt their dependence
upon informal networks but only if sufficient resources are invested to
target the barriers which currently prevail.
Overcoming these barriers requires first, developing online sites in the
native languages of the TMWs. This is likely to involve multiple websites
to cover the main languages of TMWs. English sites with auto
translations, or downloadable PDF information sheets in multiple
languages do not work. They do not appear in searches conducted in other
languages. Also, the quality of auto translations is regarded as poor and
inaccurate. Second, the sites have to be located in places where TMWs
regularly visit and must be visible. Social media sites such as Facebook,
Line and Kakotalk are visited almost daily by TMWs, and provide an
easily accessible point of contact, irrespective of geographic location.
Establishing multiple Facebook sites, each developed in a native language
of TMWs, would be appropriate. The FWO and CNESST Facebook sites
are illustrative, although as noted, the FWO site is only offered in English
and therefore inaccessible to TMWs with weak English skills. Third, such
sites need to offer interactive services so that simple questions about
employment rights can be both asked by TMWs and answered
authoritatively by government agencies. Fourth, information must be
given in simple language which is free from legal terms and technical
jargon. Even commonly used terms such as casual employmentand
penalty ratesare meaningless to TMWs without knowledge of Australian
employment practices. Fifth the sites have to be attractive to TMWs and
retain their interest. Interactivity, along with videos and the like have been
shown to be an effective means of drawing participants to online sites.
Sixth, advertisements for and links to these sites need to be located in other
sites commonly used by TMWs, such as the job search platforms of,, Hojubada and Hojunara. Finally,
government provided social media sites have to be clearly recognisable as
such so that they will be trusted by TMWs. The use of a government logo
is a straightforward method for labelling sites. This is especially important
because TMWs need information which is correct and trustworthy. They
are young workers in a foreign country without access to knowledge,
family or friends beyond those in a similar position to themselves. Only
by seeding official information into channels commonly used informally,
such as social media networks, and ensuring that information is readily
comprehensible by TMWs, might reliance move away from existing and
inaccurate informal sources. As Clibborn (2018: 15) has observed
providing information through traditional passive means will have limited
impact on workplace outcomes, and regulators might benefit from
examining interventions aimed at disrupting current information flows in
peer networks.
In Victoria, additional funding has been provided by the state government
to enable Community Legal Centres to provide pro-bono legal advice to
assist TMWs who decide to take action against employers that breached
employment law. However, that funding so far has been limited to one
centre in the capital city and two in regional Victoria, only one of which
has a high proportion of WHM TMWs (Goulburn Valley). The Sunraysia
district, with a concentration of citrus, vegetable and grape picking, has
not been supported, nor has the Gippsland region with a high proportion
of vegetable pickers. It has also provided funding to the Migrant Workers
Centre at the Victorian Trades Hall Council (personal communication).
This Centre has deep links into the TMW community, and a strong online
presence, potentially reaching a broad spectrum of TMWs. They are
unlikely, however, to have the resources to offer specialist
communications such as LiveChat services and continual Q&A/FAQ blogs
that TMWs in this study believed to offer high potential for assistance. It
is worth noting that even substantially larger grants provided by the FWO
to six community legal support centres in 2019 (FWO 2017), to assist
vulnerable workers more broadly, have been assessed by researchers as
insufficient because of the magnitude of compliance problems across the
country (Farbenblum and Berg 2017).
Are these strategies by the Victorian government likely to make a
difference to employment outcomes for TMWs? It has been noted already
that providing information about employment rights does not ensure that
those rights will be enforced, or that exploited workers will act when they
know their rights have been breached. More systemic problems exist and
include weak unions, slow legal processes to enforce rights and receive
payment for lost wages, and an inadequately resourced FWO. These also
need to be addressed to provide support to TMWs that decide to pursue
their rights. Countering the cultural norm of non-compliance amongst
employers would also reduce the breath of exploitation currently
experienced by TMWs.
The criteria for an effective online social media presence to reach TMWs
may appear a lengthy and expensive list of necessary items. However,
working holiday TMWs fill a vital role in horticulture and increasingly in
meat processing. Their contribution to the service industry is also
significant but less well studied. International students contribute
substantial revenue to Australian tertiary education and fill many urban
low skilled jobs. Is it too much to expect that a government that promotes
a labour supply of these workers should not also protect these workers?
Elsa Underhill is a senior lecturer in the Deakin Graduate School of
Business candidate at Deakin University.
Sherry Huang is a researcher and campaign organiser at the Migrant
WorkersCentre, Victorian Trades Hall Council.
Sohoon Yi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology,
Kyungpook National University, South Korea.
Malcolm Rimmer is Emeritus Professor of Business School Operations in
the La Trobe Business School, La Trobe University.
ABARES. (2015/16). Australian Agricultural Census 2015-16 visualisations.
of-production Accessed July 15 2019
Australian Bureau of Statistics. [ABS] (2019). Insights from the Australian Census and
Temporary Entrants Integrated Dataset, 2016. Cat. 3419.0. Canberra: Australian Bureau of
Australian Senate. (2016). A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa
Holders. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia, Senate Standing Committee on
Education and Employment.
Axelsson, L., Malmberg, B., and Zhang, Q. (2017). On waiting, work-time and imagined
futures: Theorising temporal precariousness among Chinese chefs in Sweden's restaurant
industry. Geoforum, 78, 169-178.
Berg, L., and Farbenblum, B. (2017). Wage theft in Australia: findings of the national
temporary migrant work survey. Sydney: Migrant Worker Justice Initiative, UNSW Law,
University of Technology Sydney.
Campbell, I., Azzura Tranfaglia, M., Tham, J.-C., and Boese, M. (2019). Precarious work
and the reluctance to complain: Italian temporary migrant workers in Australia. Labour and
Industry, 29(1), 98-117.
Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail [CNESST]) accessed 10 August 2019
Chen, W., and Choi, A. S. K. (2011). Internet and social support among Chinese migrants in
Singapore. New Media and Society, 13(7), 1067-1084.
Chib, A., Wilkin, H. A., and Hua, S. R. M. (2013). International migrant workers' use of
mobile phones to seek social support in Singapore. Information Technologies and
International Development, 9(4), 19-34.
Clibborn, S. (2018). Multiple frames of reference: Why international student workers in
Australia tolerate underpayment. Economic and Industrial Democracy. doi: doi
Clibborn, S., and Wright, C. F. (2018). Employer theft of temporary migrant workers' wages
in Australia: Why has the state failed to act? Economic and Labour Relations Review, 29(2),
Commonwealth of Australia. (2019). Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce. Canberra.
Doyle, J., and Howes, S. (2015). Australia’s seasonal worker program: Demand-side
constraints and suggested reforms. Australian National University and World Bank Group:
Fair Work Ombudsman. [FWO] (2016). Inquiry into the wages and conditions of people
working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program. Melbourne: Commonwealth of
Fair Work Ombudsman. [FWO] (2017). New Community Engagement Grants Program:
Media release. Fair Work Ombudsman.
Retrieved 6 July 2019.
Farbenblum, B., and Berg, L. (2017). Migrant workers' access to remedy for exploitation in
Australia: the role of the national Fair Work Ombudsman. Australian Journal of Human
Rights, 23(3).
Farbenblum, B., and Berg, L. (2018). Wage Theft in Silence: Why migrant workers do not
recover their unpaid wages in Australia. Sydney: Migrant Worker Justice Initiative, UNSW
Law School and University of Technology Sydney.
Farbenblum, B., Berg, L., and Kintominas, A. (2018). Tran sformative technology for migrant
workers: Opportunities, challenges, and risks. Sydney: Open Society Foundations, UNSW
Law, University of Technology Sydney.
Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia. [FECCA] (2015). Submission to
the Productivity Commission Workplace Relations Enquiry. Melbourne: FECCA.
Fitzgerald, I., Hardy, J., and Martinez Lucio, M. (2012). The internet, employment and Polish
migrant workers: communication, activism and competition in the new organisational space.
New Technology, Work and Employment, 27(2), 93-105.
Gaby, S., and Caren, N. (2012). Occupy online: How cute old men and Malcolm X recruited
400,000 users to OWS on Facebook. Social Movement Studies, 11(3-4), 367-374.
Holgate, J., Pollert, A., Keles, J., and Kumarappan, L. (2012). De-collectivization and
employment problems: the experiences of minority ethnic workers seeking help through
Citizens Advice. Work, Employment and Society, 26(5), 772-788.
Howe, J. (2016). Examining a temporary migrant worker's ability to make a complaint of
sexual harassment. Alternative Law Journal, 41(2), 102-104.
Howe, J., Clibborn, S., Reilly, A., Van den Broek, D., and Wright, C. F. (2018). Towards a
durable future: Tackling labour challenges in the Australian horticulture industry. Adelaide:
University of Adelaide.
Kennedy, M. (2018). Can Victorian Labor really make 'wage theft' a crime? Pursuit. 18
November from
wage-theft-a-crime. Accessed 9 September 2019.
Li, Y. (2017). Constituting Co-Ethnic Exploitation: The Economic and Cultural Meanings of
Cash-in-Hand Jobs for Ethnic Chinese Migrants in Australia. Critical Sociology, 43(6), 919-
Li, Y.-T., and Whitworth, K. (2016). When the state becomes part of the exploitation:
Migrants' agency within the institutional constraints in Australia. International Migration,
54(6), 138-150.
Lim, S. S., and Pham, B. (2016). 'If you are foreigner in a foreign country, you stick together':
technologically mediated communication and acculturation of migrant students. New Media
and Society, 18(10), 2171-2188.
Majchrzak, A., Wagner, C., and Yates, D. (2013). The impact of shaping on knowledge reuse
for organizational improvement with wikis. Mis Quarterly, 37, 455-469.
Manolchev, C., and Teigen, K. (2019). Counterfactual theory as an under-utilised analytical
framework for studying precarious work experiences. Personnel Review, 48(1), 288-302.
Mares, P. (2016). Not quite Australian: How temporary migration is changing the nation.
Melbourne: Text Publishing Company.
May, J. J., Wills, J., Datta, K., Evans, Y., Herbert, J., and McIlwaine, C. (2007). Keeping
London working: global cities, the British state, and London's new migrant division of labour.
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32(2), 151-167.
Murthy, D. (2018). Introduction to social media, activism and organizations. Social Media +
Society, Jan-March, 1-4.
Palfrey, J.G., and Gasser, U. (2008) Born digital : understanding the first generation of
digital natives Basic Books New York
Piore, M. (1979). Birds of Passage: Migrant Labor and Industrial Societies. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Reilly, A., Howe, J., Berg, L., Farbenblum, B., and Tan, G. (2017). International Students
and the Fair Work Ombudsman. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.
Ruhs, M. (2013). The Price of Rights. Regulating International Labor Migration. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Tham, J.-C., and Fudge, J. (2019). Unsavoury employer practices: Understanding temporary
migrant work in the Australian food services sector. International Journal of Comparative
Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 35(4), 31-56.
Thompson, E. C. (2009). Mobile phones, communities and social networks among foreign
workers in Singapore. Global Networks, 9(3), 359-380.
Underhill, E. (2014) Health and well-being amongst temporary migrants in Australian
horticulture: itinerant but not invincible, Presentation to International Commission on
Occupational Health: Work Organisation And Psychosocial Factors 2014 Congress,
September Adelaide.
Underhill, E., and Rimmer, M. (2016). Layered vulnerability: Temporary migrants in
Australian horticulture. Journal of Industrial Relations, 58(5), 608-626.
Unions NSW. (2017). Lighting up the black market: Enforcing minimum wages. Sydney:
Unions NSW.
Victorian Government. (2016). Victorian Enquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure
Work. Melbourne: Industrial Relations Victoria, Department of Economic Development,
Jobs, Transport and Resources.
Victorian Government. (2018a). Victoria Welcomes Record Numbers Of Overseas Students,
Hon. Daniel Andrews, [Press Release] 26 March 2018.
Accessed 10 July 2019.
Victorian Government. (2018b). Dodgy employers to face jail for wage theft: Hon Daniel
Andrews Press Release [Press release]
face-jail-for-wage-theft/ Accessed 10 July 2019.
Victorian Government (2019) Wage Inspectorate Victoria,
inspectorate-victoria Accessed 20 July 2019.
... Studies have found that temporary migrant workers such as Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) 1 lack knowledge of their legal rights (Farbenblum and Berg, 2017;Underhill et al., 2019) and seldom access the information provided by the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), 2 a government body empowered to enforce compliance with workplace laws. When facing exploitations in the rural areas, however, why do temporary migrant workers like WHMs increasingly leave online reviews or share stories through new media? ...
... They have shown that among underpaid migrant workers, around 46% of them indicated that they would not try to recover unpaid wages (top reasons include: do not know what to do, too much work, agreed on the wages being paid so they have no complaint, fear of immigration consequences related to their status, or job loss). Therefore, new media are increasingly adopted to access information about labor rights (Underhill et al., 2019) and to overcome precarity (Petrou and Connell, 2019). In this article, I link new media as everyday resistance to the critical theory traditions of unmasking and exposing one's experiences, the social construction of unfairness and resistance, storytelling and counter-storytelling, and the limits of legal assistance to support equal rights (Aguirre, 2000;Delgado and Stefancic, 2017). ...
Full-text available
The literature on spatial-temporal barriers shows that temporary migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation and has concentrated on how they utilize new media to address underpayment and exploitation. These studies, however, have left unexplored the agency, temporality, and spatial considerations that underpin why workers prefer to activate “informal” mechanisms of complaint rather than accessing “formal” channels of redress, such as the Fair Work Ombudsman or labor unions. Using Working Holiday Makers in Australia as an example, this article focuses on digital togetherness generated through new media. I argue that digital interactions on new media platforms not only change the spatial-temporal limit of temporary migrant workers, but also create digital togetherness and connect workers with different imagined others (customers, arriving migrant workers, and workers who are facing exploitation). This connection can become an everyday resistance strategy, a remedy to space–time limits, and potentially challenge asymmetrical power relations between workers and employers.
... Governments and migration-related organizations have long used traditional ICT such as websites and email lists for communication with migrants. More recently, governments and NGOs have moved towards using social media a communication tool (Beyer, 2017;Underhill et al., 2019;Dekker et al., 2018;Alencar, 2018). Widespread access to mobile devices makes the use of social media more feasible but the lack of access and trust, an also fear of government control (Miller, 2018), are among issues preventing the effectiveness of such efforts as migrants rely more on their own trusted networks (Pannocchia et al. 2020). ...
Full-text available
This paper addresses the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in migration governance, support, and experience with particular attention to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, social media, and virtual reality. We propose a framework for technology use based on user groups and process types. We provide examples of using emerging technologies for migration-related tasks within the context of this framework. We then identify how such technologies can be applied to migration-related tasks, developed for customized use, and improved through research to add new features that can help different migration stakeholders. We suggest a series of possible directions for future research and development to take advantage of specific affordances of those emerging technologies more effectively.
Full-text available
The reluctance of many temporary migrant workers (TMWs) to challenge poor wages and conditions is an important puzzle for both research and policy. This article explores the puzzle by drawing on in-depth interviews with Italian TMWs who have had recent work experience in food services and/or farms in Australia. The article describes their experiences of precarious work, marked by widespread and systematic underpayment of wages in breach of minimum wage regulation. It shows that few Italian TMWs challenged underpayments, whether through collective or individual action. The article reviews the varied rationales offered by the interviewees for their reluctance to pursue an individual complaint about underpayments. It finds that fear of employer reprisals was a powerful and understandable barrier to action. Also influential, however, were attitudes that had the effect of downplaying the significance of low pay in the current job, for example, by means of a judgment that the current job is only a temporary stage in a long-term life-course project. The findings indicate that reluctance to complain needs to be situated in relation to other forms of migrant worker agency, both within and outside the workplace, and the social relations in which they are embedded.
Technical Report
Full-text available
Digital technology offers the promise to transform the labour migration landscape and to empower workers in new and previously uncontemplated ways. However it also gives rise to a host of practical, ethical and legal challenges. This report takes stock of the rapidly evolving landscape of digital tools that businesses, worker advocates and governments have developed to address exploitative recruitment and labour conditions. It considers the factors that contribute to (or undermine) the effectiveness of these tools, and the risks they create for workers and host organisations. These include legal, financial and security risks. The report considers resourcing and other challenges to sustainability and scalability of digital tools, and approaches to design and implementation that ensure the tools are taken up by vulnerable workers and deliver meaningful outcomes to them. It concludes that technology’s transformative potential will only be realized through responsible and well-considered approaches to the funding, development, and implementation of platforms that respond to migrant workers’ vulnerabilities and the structural drivers of exploitation.
Full-text available
Why do employers in specific sectors significantly use migrant workers? Using temporary migrant work in the Australian food services sector as a case-study, this paper argues that employers' demand for migrant workers is shaped by two forms of social regulation: the immigration controls that create a supply of different kinds of migrant workers and the labour market norms and institutions that operate within a specific industrial sector. Specifically, the paper argues that the cost-minimisation strategy of Australian food services sector in conjunction with its precarious work norms result in a 'demand' on the part of its employers for vulnerable workers to perform precarious jobs. Such 'demand' has been met in part by the workers supplied through temporary labour migration programs who may be an attractive form of precarious labour because of the conditionalities they experience. The normalization of non-compliance with labour laws by food service employers, which stems from the broader culture of illegality in the sector, further heightens the vulnerability (attractiveness) of temporary migrant labour and allows their employers to 'demand' illegal working conditions.
Full-text available
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore experiences and attitudes associated with “precarious work”, an umbrella term for insecure, casual, flexible, contingency, non-standard and zero-hour types of employment. Design/methodology/approach The investigation was carried-out through two studies. The “outside-in” view was represented by business undergraduates ( n =56), responding to a four-item questionnaire on precarious work. It was contrasted with the “inside-out” perspective of migrant, care and hospitality workers ( n =72) expressed in 48 in-depth interviews, and four focus groups. Findings Participant narratives included counterfactual comparisons that were more often of a downward (“it could have been worse”) than of an upward (“not as good as it could have been”) kind. Precarious participants spontaneously remarked that they were “lucky” (rather than “unlucky”) to be in precarious work. Research limitations/implications Precarious work is likely to give rise to insecurity, uncertainty and vulnerability. However, this study distinguishes between the perspectives of “outside-in” observers, and “inside-out” participants. The former view was aligned with the standard view of work social scientists, yet the latter ran counter to both. Interestingly, the narratives of participants were compatible with the self-evaluations of people exposed to other hardships (like natural disasters). Originality/value There is a limited research on how the use of counterfactual thinking and difference of vantage points shapes attitudes and evaluations of precariousness. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study which has identified and explained the unprompted use of “luck” in the narratives of precarious workers.
Technical Report
Full-text available
Previous studies have revealed that international students in Australia are often underpaid and encounter other breaches of their workplace rights. This research project was commissioned by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to consider why, despite the prevalence of noncompliance, so few international students approach FWO to raise issues they encounter in the workplace.
Full-text available
Social media have become increasingly pervasive. However, the literature on social movements and social media has not fully grasped just how much social media have fundamentally changed the landscape of organizational communication, ranging from stakeholders being able to directly mobilize resources to making grassroots transnational social movements more organizationally feasible. A major gap in the literature is this lack of understanding how social media have shaped social movement organizations (SMOs) and the organization of social movements. This Special Issue brings together a unique collection of articles that map and comment on the field of social media and social movements. The volume contributes to literature in this area by exploring how social media are not only shaping social movements, advocacy, and activism from the point of view of organizational communication but also changing the ways in which activists and SMOs interact with each other. The volume leverages a diverse array of interdisciplinary methods and covers a broad terrain ranging from analyses of knowledge transfer between grassroot activists via social media to large SMOs. The Issue is broadly divided into two parts. Part 1 is focused around trends and interventions in social media, activism, and organizations research. Part 2 revolves around a global collection of case studies. The two are hardly mutually exclusive and the boundaries are roughly drawn. This collection provides a critical starting point for better understanding social media and social movements, an area that is fundamentally important to a variety of disciplines but severely underresearched.
Exploitation of temporary migrant workers in Australia has emerged as a significant human rights concern. However, limited attention has been paid to the State’s responsibility to ensure individual workers can access remedies for rights violations. This article considers whether Australia’s government agencies and institutional frameworks are suitable to enabling remedies for temporary migrant workers, and how well they deliver remedies to individuals in practice. Drawing on new empirical data, it focuses on the role of the national labour inspectorate, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). FWO has undertaken various education, compliance and deterrence initiatives directed to systemically improving conditions for migrant workers. This article considers the extent to which individual migrant workers seek assistance from FWO to recover their personal unpaid wages, and the remedial outcomes of individual claims lodged with the agency. We illuminate structural factors contributing to migrants’ reluctance to engage with FWO, as well as factors contributing to low wage recovery rates for those who do contact FWO. We conclude that although these challenges are numerous and multi-layered, they are not all inevitable. Reforms should incorporate a new migrant-centred approach that recalibrates the risks and costs of seeking remedies against the likelihood of obtaining a just outcome.