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Foreign workers surveyed on exploitation

AAP logoAAP 12/10/2016 Lisa Robinson

A survey targeting temporary visa holders, including backpackers, will try to determine the extent they are underpaid and their difficulties in recovering wages.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales, the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney have teamed up for the first large-scale national study of its kind.

Stephen Clibborn of the University of Sydney's Business School said other research he's done has made it clear that underpayment of the estimated 1.8 million temporary workers currently in Australia is widespread.

"Of those working in low wage, low skill jobs it would not surprise me if the vast majority have been underpaid at some stage," he told AAP on Wednesday.

"It's well beyond the well-publicised 7-Eleven."

"It's rife in retail, hospitality, cleaning and horticultural industries. They're the big ones."

Dr Clibborn said his previous research on international students' experiences at work found more than 80 per cent of waiters were paid under the minimum award rate for weekday shifts, not taking into account casual loading and penalty rates.

For shop assistants that figure was 90 per cent.

As well as determining how widespread underpayment is, the survey also aims to find out how many foreign workers try to recover their wages and what barriers they face.

The survey's launch comes a month after the Fair Work Ombudsman alleged a dozen young backpackers were paid an average of $2 an hour to work at a Northern Territory mango business in 2015.

It plans to take legal action against Vinai Chaipom, who formerly ran The Mango Shop even though it was registered in the name of a young Belgian backpacker.

The safety of backpackers working in remote farms to extend their holiday visas has also come under scrutiny.

In August, British backpackers Mia Ayliffe-Chung and Tom Jackson were killed at a north Queensland hostel.

Ms Ayliffe-Chung's mother, Rosie Ayliffe, has urged the Australian government to improve conditions for temporary workers like her daughter, who was a temporary worker at a sugarcane farm at Home Hill, south of Townsville.

"I knew before I went out there Mia was suffering from extreme working conditions. Long hours picking up stones in a field," she told Britain's The Independent newspaper.

The survey's launch coincided with the federal government introducing amendments to laws covering the so-called backpacker tax to federal parliament, with Treasurer Scott Morrison saying he wants Australia to be an attractive place for backpackers.

"Working holiday-makers are an important source of labour in Australia for sectors that rely on seasonal employment," he told parliament.

More than 2000 people have already shared their experiences using the survey and the team is hoping to get 5000 responses by Christmas.

The survey can be found at The Australian Temporary Migrant Work Survey Facebook page.

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