underpaid migrant worker lawyer


damning new report has shown over 50% of Australia’s international students, temporary migrant workers and backpackers are paid as little as half the minimum wage and only 10% ever attempt to recover their unpaid wages.

The study, which examined responses from 4322 participants originating from 107 countries, who worked in all Australian states and territories, also revealed only 3% of underpaid migrant workers went to the Fair Work Ombudsman and more than half of those who did recovered nothing.

Contrary to popular belief that migrants are content with lower wages, 54% of migrant workers were indeed open to trying to claim their unpaid wages. Yet, they did not do so for a variety of reasons:


  • 25% feared they would lose their visa 
  • 22% feared they would lose their job 
  • 42% said they did not know what to do 
  • 15% said their “English was not good enough” 
  • 35% said it was “too much work” did not know how much effort was involved 
  • 28% said they had agreed to the wage, so they had no legitimate reason to complain
  • 26% said that others around them had the same wage and weren’t taking action 
  • 20% were pessimistic about getting a positive outcome 
Australia’s underpayment epidemic is clearly fuelled by unscrupulous employers who rely on migrant workers’ silence.


What can underpaid migrant workers do?


While most naturalised Australians will tell migrant workers to seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), the reality is that the FWO rarely assists individuals in a meaningful way.
First, the FWO has a directive to ensure that ‘at least 90% of requests for assistance involving a workplace dispute are finalised through education and dispute resolution services’. This means that most underpaid workers who contact the FWO will be directed to their website or other service providers.
Second, even when a formal Request for Assistance is submitted, the FWO may address the matter directly with the employer or attempt to mediate over the phone – although they have no power to compel the employer to participate. This could jeopardise a worker’s visa and employment.
Third, according to the report, “In only a small fraction of cases, an individual Request for Assistance will trigger a formal investigation… while remedies for individual workers may flow from [subsequent] enforcement activities or be a means to achieving their goals, they are not a primary objective in their own right.”
In short, the role of the FWO is not to advocate for individual workers, but to ensure general compliance within businesses, and the majority of workers who contact FWO will not get their unpaid wages.


How a solicitor can assist underpaid migrant workers


Wherever financially possible, it seems the best recourse for migrant workers who are owed money from their employers is to seek legal advice.
A solicitor can help migrant workers:
  • Directly negotiate with their employer from a position of legal standing, ensuring their visa and job are not threatened.
  • Gather the required evidence and documentationwhich can be difficult for workers who aren’t issued payslips or are paid in cash.
  • File a claim in court (most often small claims court, but in some cases, a class action may be appropriate). Often, success may hinge upon something as simple as correctly identifying who a worker’s legal employers are and the legal instrument they have breached.
While it is true that some cases may not be worth pursuing, wage theft can quickly add up.
An employee who has been underpaid by $10 an hour for 20 hours a week would be entitled to $10,400 a year.


What to do when you’re a migrant worker who has been underpaid


If you’ve been underpaid, don’t just call the Fair Work Ombudsman. Seek legal advice. Call (07) 3180 0908 or email info@phoenix-law.com.au for a confidential discussion about your circumstances.
Our solicitors speak:
  • Japanese 
  • Chinese (Mandarin) 
  • Farsi (Persian) 
  • Dari 
  • Hindi 
  • Urdu 
  • Kurdish

If you’re asking yourself right now, “Why would I take a lawyer’s advice about how to find a lawyer?”, congratulations. You are the type of person for whom we’ve written this article.

Our answer to your question is simple: Because we work with lawyers day in and day out, we understand them better than anyone else. Follow our advice, and you’ll be able to find a good lawyer when you need one.

Read time: 4 minutes.

Objection #1: “Lawyers only want easy jobs. They always put my case in the too hard basket.”
This complaint is one of the biggest paradoxes within the law industry: Clients want a lawyer who will take on their case, but at the same time they need a lawyer who is honest and sets realistic expectations.

The best way to find out if you have a case worth pursuing is to shop around for multiple opinions. Many law firms offer a free initial consultation, which you can use to find out:

  • Whether your case can be won;
  • What possible roadblocks you may run into;
  • If the lawyer you’re considering has experience winning cases similar to yours;
  • The level of commitment running your case will require from you, and;
  • Their fee structure.

A good lawyer won’t tell you what you want to hear; they’ll tell you what you need to know.

Objection #2: “Lawyers only care about making money, even if I win my case most of the money will probably go to legal fees.”

Even if you have confidence in both the capability of your lawyer and the strength of your case, you still have to decide if you can afford to pursue your matter.

In Queensland, lawyers must provide their clients with a “Costs Agreement”.

There are two types of costs agreements:

  1. Conditional Costs Agreements: These are the “no win no fee” deals you see on billboards and TV. You only pay fees if your case is successful, and your lawyer can’t charge you more than 50% of the total compensation amount in a personal injury case.
  2. Cost Agreements: These agreements include fees and expenses you have to pay regardless of the outcome of your case.

The important things to know about both types of cost agreements are:

  • They must show how the lawyers calculate the costs;
  • They must provide realistic estimates that take into account variables likely to affect the final costs you must pay;
  • They must tell you when and how you’ll be billed and explain any interest you’ll be charged on overdue amounts;
  • You can negotiate the costs within an agreement before you sign;
  • You can ask to receive progress reports throughout your case, and;
  • You can request an itemised bill after you’ve signed.

That said, if the legal work your lawyer carries out costs less than $1,500.00 (excluding GST), they don’t have to provide you with all this information.

Objection #3: “Lawyers are arrogant.”

In our blog “How to Argue Like a Good Lawyer” we discuss why so many unflattering lawyer stereotypes exist. While some lawyers are undeniably arrogant, others simply choose to rely on reason instead of emotion so they will have a better chance of successfully arguing their client’s case.

But, in much the same way that you need to be able to talk openly with your doctor or your accountant, you need to have a good working relationship with your lawyer.

Before your first in-person meeting, you can find out a lot about your lawyer and the culture of their firm by:

Reading online reviews: Some firms are quick to get rid of bad reviews on their Google and official Facebook pages, but you can usually still find out what their customers’ experiences are like by searching forums, clicking past the first page of Google, and reading through comments on their social media posts.

Keeping in mind how large the firm is: A bigger firm may have a reputation for having a large pool of resources to draw upon, but a smaller firm will offer your more opportunities for direct communication with your lawyer and potentially lower fees as well.

Find out if your communication needs are compatible: Good communication is the key to mutually beneficial relationships. Find out from the outset how often your lawyer will communicate with you, if they’re willing to accommodate your preferred method of communication (email, phone calls, letters or even text messages), and how much they’ll charge you for each time you talk.

The Bottom Line

Whether you have a legal matter relating to your business, your family, your person or your property, you don’t have to settle for subpar legal representation.

There are hardworking, fair, and friendly lawyers out there who will do their best to help you out – you just need to know how to find them!

Need legal advice? Call +61 07 3607 3274, email info@phoenix-law.com.au or fill out our online contact form and our team of experienced, friendly solicitors will assist you in any way possible.

Here’s a question for anyone who has ever tried to win an argument with a lawyer:
At what point did you realise that you might be better off just lying down and playing dead until they’ve made their point? Five minutes? Two hours? Ten years?

When it comes to making an argument, great lawyers rely on three traits: Tenacity, objectivity and outcome-driven strategy.

The good news for you is that anyone can learn how to use these mental tools to win a debate. Read on, and you’ll be in with a fighting chance the next time you’ve got a bone to pick!

Read time: 2 minutes.

1. Don’t Get Distracted

Good lawyers win arguments not by muddying the waters, but by sticking to one or two key issues and refusing to deviate from them.

Arguments are not the place to blurt out hypotheticals and half-baked ideas. Avoid the natural urge to bring up unrelated matters when you feel like you’re losing. And, if the other party does this, politely let them know you’ll discuss other issues once you’ve resolved the matter at hand.

2. Stay Cool At All Costs

There is a good reason that lawyers have a reputation for being cold, emotionless creatures (sharks, if you will): This kind of objectivity is what allows you to make informed, balanced decisions.

When you’re arguing with someone remember:

Stick to the facts: Gather as much relevant information you can before you engage in any debate.
Avoid making assumptions: Ask questions instead of making assumptions about other people’s actions or motives.
Take a break when things get heated: If the argument devolves into a name-calling match or someone starts threatening or shouting, call a recess. Whether it is ten minutes or a whole day, this break will give both parties time to calm down, talk to trusted advisors and decide how they want to proceed.

3. Determine What You Want to Achieve Before You Start

Television lawyers are best known for issuing verbal smackdowns. Their fictional adversaries are left reeling, they strut back to their seats looking insufferably smug and their clients can’t seem to get enough of their witty one-liners.

In reality, this is not how brilliant lawyers operate. A great lawyer won’t worry about embarrassing their opponents – instead, they’ll focus on marrying the outcomes their client wants to achieve with the outcomes their client can achieve.

In the words of business mentor Bryan Worn, “The success of a communication is the outcome of a communication.”

Always consider your end game before engaging in an argument or a debate:

  • Do you want to maintain your relationship with the person you’re up against?
  • What are your goals (to be heard, to get an apology or material outcome, to enforce an agreement)?
  • Which of your goals is highest/lowest on your priority list?
  • How likely is it that you will achieve each of your goals?
  • What will you do if you can’t achieve them all?
  • What are you willing to compromise?

Asking yourself “Does saying [x] increase or decrease my chances of achieving [y]?” will exponentially increase the likelihood of you getting what you want in the end.

Revenge porn is a particularly insidious type of harassment where an ex-partner publishes sexually explicit images of a former flame online without their consent.  Unfortunately, because this is a relatively new crime there isn’t an Australia-wide law to deter offenders, but there are still other options for victims to pursue.

Copyright Takedowns

If your sexually explicit image is a selfie, then you own it, and this means that you can request that online publisher remove it from their sites. This process is called a “DMCA takedown”. There are many providers who offer this service, and a quick Google search will set you on the right path.

Google It

The search engine giant has recently announced that it is taking a progressive approach to the problem of revenge porn. 

In June 2015, the Senior Vice-President of Google Search declared, “Revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims — predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honour requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results”. 

Since then, the search engine has streamlined it’s reporting platforms to accomodate the massive number of requests it receives every day. Google’s removal process starts with this online form.

Seek Legal Help

While Australia does not have federal laws specifically relating to revenge porn, there may be other legal avenues you can take. Online harassment and defamation are both crimes that posts made about you may fall into – so it’s worth getting a lawyer to explain what you need to prove if you want to pursue legal action against the person who is distributing your explicit pictures.