House debates

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Constituency Statements


10:08 am

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to acknowledge the great work done by WEstjustice in my electorate. WEstjustice is a group of community legal centres that provides free legal help to people in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Like Labor, WEstjustice believes in a just and fair society where law and its processes do not discriminate against vulnerable people, and where those in need have ready and easy access to quality information and advice.

Beyond their client work they also find time in the face of extremely limited resources to undertake important research. Two weeks ago WEstjustice released a report authored by Catherine Hemingway titled Not just work: ending the exploitation of refugee and migrant workers. They met with a number of individuals and groups from settlement agencies, community legal centres, Victoria Legal Aid, law firms, unions, universities, government agencies and other community organisations to prepare this report. They received over 100 surveys from community workers and newly arrived people from refugee communities. This report documents the widespread endemic exploitation of migrant workers in Australia. The WEstjustice report found widespread abuse across numerous industries, including hospitality, retail, construction and care work; incidents where two workers were paid one salary between them and where some workers were paid as little as $8 an hour; and that workers who complained were fired.

Current systems are failing to stop the abuse and exploitation of these vulnerable communities. This exploitation not only damages vulnerable workers, but undermines the workplace relations framework. Businesses that do the right thing are undercut by those breaking the law. These laws are being routinely broken not just by dodgy subcontractors, not just as one-off exceptions, but as the norm. We have seen it with Pizza Hut, 7-Eleven and now Caltex. We all saw the appalling footage recently of a staff member at 7-Eleven being taken over to the store ATM and being made to withdraw money so they could hand cash back to their boss. As Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, told the chamber on Monday:

This is not an oversight or an exception, it is a business model.

This is not just confined to newly arrived and refugee workers. Exploitation in the workplace affects wages growth for all of us. Targeted services and legal reform are urgently required, and funding is urgently required. The Not just work reportwas undertaken by an average of just one full-time employee. Community legal centres face a 30 per cent funding cut on 1 July 2017, which will see many centres having to close their doors to clients. The Productivity Commission found that for every dollar invested in community legal centres $17 is returned to the community.

Sustained funding will ensure that important work and research like this continues. My congratulations to everyone at WEstjustice, and especially to Catherine Hemingway and Denis Nelthorpe, for continuing to raise awareness of this issue and continuing to shine a spotlight on this very important issue that affects all of us in our community in Melbourne's west.