What is wage theft?

In Australia, there is a national minimum wage and 10 minimum employment entitlements.[1] Your employment contract cannot be less than the minimum wage and the 10 minimum employment entitlements. These conditions have to be given to all employees, regardless of migration status.

Despite the existence of a national minimum wage, there are a substantial number of migrant workers who are ‘paid roughly half the legal minimum wage…in Australia.’[2] This is wage theft.

Wage theft is the ‘unlawful underpayment of employee remuneration by employers’. [3] Wage theft means getting paid less than the national minimum wage. The national minimum wage as at July 2019 is $19.49 per hour, before tax.[4]

Wage theft includes underpayment or non-payment of ‘penalty rates, superannuation, overtime, commissions, entitlements such as sick, annual or carers leave, termination payments, allowances, requiring workers to repay money [earned] or making unauthorised deductions from employee pay’.[5]

About 91% of temporary visa holders suffer wage theft in silence. [6] If you think you haven’t been paid properly, get legal help. Early. You do not need to still be employed with the underpaying employer to make a claim.

Contact the Migrant Employment Legal Service on 02 8002 1203 to make an appointment for legal advice. Our services are free and confidential. We use interpreters.


[1] Fair Work Ombudsman 2019, National Employment Standards, viewed 25 November 2019, < https://www.fairwork.gov.au/employee-entitlements/national-employment-standards>.

[2] Bassina Farbenblum and Laurie Berg, 2018, ‘Wage Theft in Silence: Why Migrant Workers Do Not Recover Their Unpaid Wages in Australia’ viewed 25 November 2019, <https://mesinnsw.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/f3099-wagetheftinsilencereport.pdf>, p 5.

[3] Edward Cavanough and Lachlan Blain, 2019, ‘Ending Wage Theft: Eradicating Underpayment in the Australian Workforce’ viewed on 25 November 2019, <https://mckellinstitute.org.au/app/uploads/McKell-Ending-Wage-Theft.pdf> p 8.

[4] Fair Work Ombudsman 2019, Minimum Wages, viewed 25 November 2019, <https://www.fairwork.gov.au/how-we-will-help/templates-and-guides/fact-sheets/minimum-workplace-entitlements/minimum-wages>.

[5] https://mckellinstitute.org.au/app/uploads/McKell-Ending-Wage-Theft.pdf p 14.

[6] Farbenblum and Berg 2018, p 5.

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