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Home > News > 2018 > February > Embassy exploitation shows vulnerability of workers

Embassy exploitation shows vulnerability of workers

Worker_shadow_web.pngA damning report has uncovered extreme cases of worker exploitation in Australia’s foreign embassies, highlighting how easy it is for employers to take advantage of vulnerable workers.

An ABC Four Corners report uncovered instances of embassy workers being paid well below minimum wage, forced to work excessive hours and unable to access leave entitlements.

The report featured employees from three different foreign embassies who compared their conditions to ‘slavery’. 

The Federal Government was highlighted as ineffectual in addressing the exploitation due to flawed industrial laws, particularly laws surrounding diplomatic immunity.

The affected workers received contracts of employment in their home countries which were assessed by the Department of Foreign Trade and Affairs (DFAT) prior to the workers commencing employment. 

The contracts stated workers would be paid in accordance with Australian workplace laws.

However, the report uncovered that these contracts were disregarded once employees commenced work in the embassies.

Interviewed workers stated they were paid a fraction of their specified wage, did not receive holidays and were not compensated for working overtime. 

Employees stated on many occasions they worked for up to 18 hours a day.

Diplomatic immunity means foreign diplomats cannot be subjected to legal proceedings in Australian courts.

DFAT implemented protections for embassy workers in 2014, but advocates have labelled them ineffective and easy to circumvent through use of diplomatic visas and other measures.

IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Paul Giles said the report was clear evidence of how easy it is for employers to exploit vulnerable workers and diminish working conditions most Australians view as fundamental to a democratic society.

“When loopholes in industrial laws are so evident and accessible to employers, it is no surprise that workers face an onslaught of attacks to their wages and conditions.”

“Clearly, in this case we see the devastating impact upon workers who cannot unionise easily due to lack of access and fear of persecution.

“Every worker is entitled to a fair living wage and a contemporary set of working conditions.

“The federal government must act to protect these workers – and clearly this action should start with a change to our industrial rules to return a fair balance of power to workers.

“It’s time to have a national conversation about our industrial laws, and undoubtedly it’s time to change the rules,” Mr Giles said.