Super exploitation of migrant workers in Australia is nothing new in Australia. It has existed almost as long as the super exploitation of Indigenous people in Australia. All workers under capitalism are exploited in that they sell their labour power and create surplus value for the capitalist from which profit is derived. Through collective struggle since 1788, workers in Australia have won minimum standards enshrined in the capitalists’ industrial laws to prevent being thrown in to a state which Marx called “miserable wretches”. However alongside these minimum standards of engagement by the capitalists, there have been many instances of capitalists ignoring their own laws and ‘super exploiting’ workers. Migrant workers in particular are often the victims of this.
The other day I met some Nepalese migrants who worked cleaning rooms in a large multinational owned hotel. Some were overseas students, some were partners of overseas students. Their working goal in Australia is to work continuously for two years to improve their chances of a successful application for permanent residency status. They said they had checked to find out that they were being paid the minimum award rate of about $18 per hour. The problem was that they were only paid for four hours a day and the work they had to do took eight hours! They were expected to clean and tidy 16 rooms in four hours, one room per 15 minutes! They were effectively working for $9 per hour!
On a few occasions some of them stopped working at the four hour mark and went home, rather than working in unpaid time. However the company they worked for, a large overseas owned labour hire firm, deducted a couple of hours pay from their pay packet for not cleaning all the rooms. So even though they worked four hours on these days, they were paid less than four hours for not completing all the work. They were told by the manager they had to finish the work in four hours, that was the job. The industry standard, itself too demanding, is half an hour cleaning time per room.
Modern Forms Of Slavery Still Exist Right Here In Australia
When I heard their story, I thought that this was outrageous, but nothing new in the hotel industry.
What they then told me was even more outrageous. In fact, a modern form of slavery.
They said their supervisor and some other hotel workers they knew were in Australia on what were called “sponsorships”. I asked them what did that mean?
They said the “sponsors” are business people who agree to provide work for a new migrant worker for two years, provided the new migrant pays the sponsor an amount of money equivalent to the wages being performed for the sponsor. Once the money is paid to the sponsor in advance of work performed, the sponsor then pays back the money to the worker in the form of a wage, including a gross and net pay after tax. So on the surface, it looks like a normal capitalist–wage labour relationship, but in fact the worker gets nothing, accept two years guaranteed ‘employment’ and a hoped for ‘passport’ to permanent residency.
What does such a migrant worker live on if their ‘wage’ is paid back in full to the boss or so-called ‘sponsor’?
The Nepalese people I met said that these workers have to work a second job, usually cash in hand, in order to survive.
They said they wanted to get out of their situation but knew that the odds are stacked against them. With great courage, they said they were going to contact the relevant union as a first step to improving their situation.