It's been two years since Adele Ferguson and Sarah Danckert (Fairfax Media), plus a Four Corners team (ABC News), exposed the wage-theft practices entrenched in 7-Eleven Australia and affecting foreign workers, largely on 457 and student visas (the kind of courses advertised overseas as "permanent residence courses": you, the sales pitch goes, pay to get a beautician qualification, say, and -- welcome to the capitalist paradise Down Under! -- you get a resident visa).
In the intervening years a string of similar cases came to light, affecting not only 457 and study visa holders but also working holiday tourists (aka backpackers). It wasn't just 7-Eleven either: small and big businesses in all sorts of industries were involved. Nor it was just a matter of bosses stealing wages: often female foreign workers were being sexually harassed or abused or even forced into prostitution.
The common denominator in the three categories is that those visas give their holders conditional and temporary residence rights only. Their stay is contingent upon working for a local employer, tasked to make sure these workers fulfill that duty.
I trust I don't need to explain how this situation was open to abuse: would-be residents desperate to stay, on one hand, employers ready to take advantage of that, on the other. This all should have been pretty obvious to anyone (except, evidently, the LibLab government and "progressive" Australians, for whom this is quantum mechanics explained in ancient sanskrit written in cuneiform script).
The news last week was that the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled a report recommending reforms to the regime governing those visas. The word slavery was used:
" 'If you are a Woolworths or Coles and you're sourcing a product, you need to look into your supply chain to ensure there is no modern slavery practices or labour exploitation, or debt bondage,' said Chris Crewther, chair of the committee."Will that solve that problem? Let's wait and see.
According to the ABS (3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2017) the Australian resident population grew in the year to March 2017 by 389,100 people. Natural growth produced 142,400 new residents (36.6% of that total); 231,900 (59.6%) are the result of net overseas migration (the total growth figure includes an adjustment).
In percentage terms, resident population grew 1.6% that year. Without migrants, that figure would have dropped to 0.6%.
Evidently, not all those migrants are as susceptible to abuse (included in those figures are migrants with permanent residence visas, for instance), but -- for me at any rate -- it's hard to advance a more precise figure.
Also according to the ABS (3401.0 Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia. Dec. 2016. Table 6: Short-term Movement, Visitor Arrivals) the reasons declared by short-term entrants in Australia were as follows
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It's important to note that those are cross-border movements: one visitor could and often does contribute multiple entries (and exits).
Together holiday, employment, and education (where abuses seem more prevalent) were, in December 2016, the reasons for visiting for 59.0% of short-term visitors (stay up to 1 year) of the 971,800 short-term entrants to Australia that month. But median stay for all categories was short (10.8 days), therefore, cases of abuse probably affect only those in the upper tail of the distribution: again, it's hard to be more precise.
It seems clear migrants themselves are often big losers, but has immigration lowered wages in Australia?
Academic research denies that and lefties in general accept it as Gospel truth. In the UK, for instance, Chris Dillow has frequently argued that case.
Perhaps they are right and have better population estimates. Still, I don't feel reassured. To the best of my knowledge, that research is generally based on highly aggregated official data (including wage data). In Oz, that essentially means the ABS. Normally, that's as kosher as it gets and I myself use ABS data.
However, call me paranoid or racist or stupid (or all three: I'm just a working class commie grunt, after all), in this case, where wage-theft is common I find it hard to trust information provided by employers: they know they are breaking the law. Moreover, those workers themselves, knowingly or not, are probably breaking the law too. Illegal cash-in-hand payments could be very common. Maybe I'm being unduly cynical, but I don't think that's the kind of information people volunteer to the ABS.
And it could explain the underpayment claims explosion the Fair Work Ombudsman has faced in the last few years.
Further, stories of contractors being reduced to misery aren't unknown in the media. I've heard similar stories from delivery contractors, with one additional detail: those who spoke to me claim to have been undercut by foreign contractors who subcontract the job, paying their staff peanuts. I know it's anecdotal and so it shall remain: to change that researchers would have to speak with them. Unthinkable.
In the meantime, this is how businesses are treated:
This is capitalism, mate. Mainstream economics textbooks don't teach you that kind of shit, do they? Neither do post Keynesian allegedly subversive geniuses, by the way. Whether you like it or not, you're stuck with old fashioned, working class commie grunts.