The Fair Work Ombudsman told SBS News in a statement that in 2017-18 they assisted 2,158 workers in workplace disputes involving a visa holder. That equates to 20 per cent of the total number of disputes dealt with.
Mr Singh was offered a full-time job as a chef at a Gold Coast Indian restaurant. The father-of-one migrated from Punjab in India to Australia in 2007 to study hospitality management.
But after working at the restaurant for more than three years, his life was turned upside down when his employer requested that he work without pay. He said his boss initially promised him it would only be for a few weeks. Mr Singh was working on a 457 visa and his employer promised to sponsor him for permanent residency under the Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186 visa).
Carina Garland, assistant secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council said those on temporary visas are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, especially when their employer is their sponsor.
Eventually, Mr Singh left his job and has since lodged a complaint about his former employer to the Fair Work Ombudsman to try and recover $25,000 in wages he says he is owed. The Ombudsman is in the initial stages of assessing his case. During the eight months he worked without pay, he said he his wife was forced to work longer hours as a cleaner and he needed to borrow money from friends to put food on the table.
The Fair Work Ombudsman said those seeking assistance shouldn’t be afraid of losing their visas. “Visa holders should be aware that, in line with an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs, they can seek assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman without fear of their visa being cancelled,” the spokeswoman from the Fair Work Ombudsman said.
Mr Singh’s visa application was cancelled by his former employer when he left, but he is now on a bridging visa while he challenges the visa decision in the courts, separately to his Fair Work claim against his former employer.
He said he has chosen to speak up to educate other migrants about the risks of exploitation in the workplace. He also has big hopes for his future in Australia.