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Tara Cosoleto and Duncan Murray

Wage theft rife for migrant workers

A thriving underbelly of exploited migrant workers exists in Australia, in part due to fears that those who speak out could be deported.

A report by Unions NSW, released on Monday, showed more than 60 per cent of job advertisements reviewed in the nation's top eight industries offered illegal rates of pay.

Most of the 7000 job ads surveyed for the report were in a foreign language suggesting many workers are being taken advantage of by those within their own diaspora communities.

Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Andrew Giles said the federal government was working towards reforms to make it easier for migrant workers to speak out.

"Building trust for people to come forward is the single most important thing we need to do," Mr Giles said.

"Workers need to feel that there is an avenue where they can come forward to report exploitation without being deported."

Unions NSW is calling for greater protections for migrant workers, including a "firewall" between the Fair Work Ombudsman and Department of Home Affairs that prevents visa-related repercussions.

One of those who has experienced exploitation first hand is Ady Manzoor, who moved to Australia seven years ago from India in search of a better life.

While working for a major convenience store chain, Mr Manzoor recalled having to work back-to-back shifts from 6am till midnight for three days in a row, between which he slept in his car.

"At the time I didn't even realise what was happening to me. It took me years to realise I was being exploited," he said.

"I was brainwashed to think that working more hours meant more money, instead of just being paid the right amount."

Mr Manzoor is far from alone, with more than one-third of migrant workers surveyed reporting being paid or offered a lower salary because of their visa type, and more than one quarter saying they received lesser salaries because of their nationality.

The current "assurance protocol", intended to protect workers who speak out from facing backlash due to their visa status, has been proven to be inadequate, according to Mr Giles.

There have only been 77 instances where the protocol has been invoked in the past five years, demonstrating a system viewed with intense suspicion by workers on temporary visas, he said.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said it was disturbing some employers were still targeting workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

"Australia is a country that has given migrants for 200 years an opportunity for a better life," Mr Morey said.

"The current system that was established by the former coalition set up to facilitate ongoing exploitation."

Unions NSW wants a new substantive visa to allow workers with outstanding claims for workplace entitlements to remain in the country with working rights until their claim has been settled.

In addition it says restrictions that intensify exploitation should be lifted, and all visa types should provide a clear and reliable pathway to permanent residency.

Mr Manzoor said he felt the issue had been ignored for so long because Australians were willing to put up with migrant workers being mistreated.

"Why hasn't anything done for so long, until now?" Mr Manzoor said.

"The only reason I can think of is because it's migrant workers."

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