RLC in the Media: New service provides free legal advice for migrant workers facing wage theft

Migrant workers facing exploitation at work can now access free legal assistance through ha $1.6 million project launched in New South Wales today.

Sam Langford reports for SBS The Feed

The Migrant Employment Legal Service (MELS) offers free legal advice, representation and community legal education for migrants who are victims of wage theft or have been unfairly dismissed.

The MELS is a joint initiative by Inner City Legal Centre, Redfern Legal Centre, Kingsford Legal Centre and Marrickville Legal Centre, which currently provide free legal advice to residents in surrounding suburbs.

With $1.6 million in government funding delivered over three years, the MELS will expand that support to temporary migrants state-wide.

Redfern Legal Centre employment law solicitor Sharmilla Bargon said the new service is crucial, given that migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace.

“Unscrupulous businesses exploit migrants by offering work that is well below the legal rate of pay,” Bargon said.

“This pressures migrant workers into breaching their visa conditions. We have seen certain visa holders forced into working over their legally-allowed limit of 40 hours per fortnight, just to survive.”

“If the migrant worker complains, the employer threatens to ‘get them deported’. This creates a culture of silence around wage theft and other forms of exploitation.”

International student Kateryna said she was paid $12 and $14 an hour at her first two jobs in Sydney, both small cafes.

“I didn’t have somebody else to tell me that’s kind of a bit dodgy, or it’s a bit wrong, because I’m surrounded by people who are in exactly the same situation,” she said.

Attorney General Mark Speakman helped launch the MELS today and said it filled a critical gap in legal services, estimating that around 1000 people will be able to access legal assistance through the service annually.

Read the full article here (SBS The Feed, 6 November 2019)