Justice Iain Ross, current president of the Fair Work Commission, has announced that the new national minimum wage will increase by 3.5% to $719.20 a week or $18.93 per hour. Even though the increase is still well below the 7.2% the Unions called for, it is still above the inflation rate of 1.9%. Now while we hope that ethics are resurrected and this cash filters down to the people who are striving to make ends meet everyday, we must remember Australia has and continues to play host to a substantial immigrant population – a significant majority of which comes from Asia and the Middle East.
Some of the countries here are in the throes of a population boom and rapid industrialization and quite a few have been shaken to the core by religious fundamentalism, oil and territorial wars. Migrants from these regions come from all types of strata and economic backgrounds – there are some who come on dependent visa, some as students and some even as permanent residents; then there are also refugees who come here seeking asylum. But they all have one important thing in common – they come in search of a better life and are largely unaware of the struggles and perils they’ll encounter on the glossy shores of Australia.
In this report, we seek to cover true tales of hardship and lay bare for all the truth of migration and the exploitation that takes place in the name of fair wage – the honest picture.
Taufeeq Ahmed came to Sydney from Mumbai, in May of 2009. Armed with a degree in hospitality, he spent his first year living off savings, applying incessantly and waiting for the ‘right’ job to come along. He knew no one here. By February 2010, his savings were rapidly diminishing and the ‘right’ job started to feel like a lost cause.
He quickly picked up a part time appointments in sales at a hotel in Sydney – loyalty sales that were outsourced, at $15 per hour. But with an income based mainly on commission and making barely AUD 300 a week, things were tough. By then, he had been joined by his wife, a student. He lost the job four weeks after but the need for another source of employment was very real.
He found a job at Falcon café in the city where the only question he was asked before being hired was if he had any experience. Wages weren’t discussed. After a few days, he realized neither a TFN nor an ABN was required – for it was a $12 per hour, cash in hand job, no contract. It didn’t last very long because he had apparently only been hired to fill up for another employee on leave.
Jobless again, the hunt was on, only to stop at a middle- eastern restaurant in Bankstown, where he was informed of his selection and of the paid training that was to soon follow. On asking about his wages, he was told not to worry, for he’d be paid the ‘princely’ sum of $7 per hour. Taufeeq was certain he’d misheard and highlighted his qualifications, following which his wages were most generously raised to $8.00 per hour. Despite the blow to his self-esteem, he offered to start on the same day.
It was not until late 2010, that things started looking up from rock bottom and he got a sales gig again at Salmat, door-to-door, commission-based but with a base salary of $240. This was his second chance at a career in sales and he never looked back. Today, Taufeeq is the director at Divine Synergies Pty Ltd. His time in sales gave him the confidence to choose entrepreneurship. From a job seeker he is today, a job giver.
The sad thing is there are countless such examples of taking advantage, of misuse, of ill treatment. You barely have to scratch the surface. This is reality and it’s rampant. Everybody knows about it, a lot of us have been through it but fear in a foreign land has the power to bully us into silence.
A source, who prefers to remain anonymous, came as here as a permanent resident with his wife back in 1997. Five months and intensive searching later, he was still without a job. He got his first shot at employment at a computer warehouse in Parramatta that too through the referral of friends. The entire upkeep and maintenance of the equipment fell on to him, as did coordinating with the assembling and courier departments, taking and executing orders. Even as a full-time working hand, putting in eight hours a day, he was unable to earn above $9 per hour. After a month, his employer praised his diligence and sincerity and raised his wages to $9.50 per hour. By comparison he would make $80 for three hours had he been a native delivering newspapers once a week.
Another anonymous story is that of a young woman from New Delhi, who came here as a permanent resident based on her experience and credentials in 2015. She mentions how she was advised to grab with both hands whatever came her way because the job she rightfully deserved would take time. With an interest in the bar and café business, she quickly became a qualified barista and got her competency card allowing her to work in places that served liquor. On applying, she heard back soon enough from an Indian café in Wentworthville. She would be paid under the table, only cash $13 per hour – a significant drop from the minimum wage of $17.29 per hour back then.
In a country like India – because of the sheer volume of people and despite plenty of jobs – for each seat there are sometimes thousands of applicants. A lot of people make the long journey here in search of a less competitive environment, decent work life balance and first world comforts. What they don’t bargain for is the financial hardship in store, the feeling of starting from zero and the toll it can take on your mental and emotional wellbeing when you uproot yourself from all that is comfortable and familiar.
The story of Rakhesh Kashi, who came to Australia from Hyderabad in June of 2009, is no different. He came as a post-graduate student and had to look for a part time job to pay his bills. He shared a flat with six others in Parramatta. He found a job at a restaurant run by a Srilankan in Flemington. Unsurprisingly, he was paid only $8 per hour, in cash. Initially he was told it would only be a counter job, but eventually he was doing all types of duties including those of a kitchen hand. It was a grueling time for him, with his days starting at 5pm and going on till midnight. It was not before 2014 that he joined the Vita group, where he grew from strength to strength. Today he looks after a Telstra business centre in South West Sydney.
In case of Hemal Joshi, the lack of opportunities and ambition for a better lifestyle brought him from Gujarat to Sydney in July 2004. He came as a student of Biotechnology but a lot of his time was dedicated to job hunting, phone calls and emails to keep up with the expenses. This carried on without any luck for what he calls two of the longest months of his life. Eventually, he joined a 7/11 where he worked without payment for a month and later at $10 per hour. He also worked in a car-washing outlet for a month where even though he’d be paid $15 per hour, there was no certainty of clients. If by 8pm, he hadn’t got any customer he’d return home.
It was only after he completed another degree in nursing, that he got a job as a nursing assistant in Westmead Hospital, where he got a ringside view into the workings of the health system. From there, he got a job in mental health and opportunities began to reveal themselves.
Today he feels a deep sense of satisfaction with his life. When conducting interviews for recruitment now, he remembers his own days of deprivation. Hemal stresses upon the massive gap between expectation and reality for new migrants, the facilities people take for granted will be theirs when they come – for instance, even something as easy as internet, doesn’t come effortlessly – but isn’t so. He also mentions the hidden costs and the massive amounts students end up spending on commuting since university campuses are often far flung.
Another source preferring to remain anonymous came from Saudi Arabia, as a student in 2009. His start was in sales but being primarily commission-based, it wasn’t effective in paying bills. In 2011, he joined a restaurant called 99 on York in Townhall that paid him $10 per hour in cash for almost inhuman hours. He quit in two weeks. This was followed by a waiting job at an Indian restaurant in Crows Nest, again cash in hand. By now he was a permanent resident and wanted a taxable income, which would provide him other benefits as well but it was tough to find the right opportunity. Being in a position where he couldn’t afford to be choosy, he took up whatever came his way. In 2012, he even worked as a security guard at night so he could study during the day. There was no stability as the gig was need based and not regular. Payment was minimal and still in cash.
Today, he works as an interpreter at TIS National. He is content and enjoys the travel aspect of his job, but the horrors of his early days continue to haunt him.
Is then the road to success only an unfair, deceitful one? That can’t be true because we meet successful people who have integrity and dignity everyday. The above are only a few instances stating that nothing has changed in 2018. Students and new immigrants continue to struggle for existence in this land of hope. So it was not surprising when, being in the thick of things, most of them were too afraid to even talk to the publication about their plight.