Migrant worker talks to FWO, helps workmates get more than $350,000 in back-pay

Shi Yuen Wong was a working holiday visa holder picking and packing in a Sydney warehouse when he had a feeling his pay wasn’t right.

“This was the first time I’d been overseas, this was my first job,” he said through an interpreter. “I basically didn’t know what things were like in Australia. I never knew overtime rates applied.”

After hearing colleagues talking about wages, Mr Wong decided to search the Fair Work Ombudsman website for information. His workplace at the time was Winit (AU) Trade Pty Ltd, a Hong Kong-owned company that provides warehousing and distribution services in western Sydney for products sold on online platforms, including eBay.

After reading information at www.fairwork.gov.au, “I learned I actually have rights while working in Australia,” Mr Wong said. “I never knew if [storage and warehousing employees] work on Saturday and Sunday, you are entitled to more money.”

Raising his concerns with his employers did not lead to any improvement in wages. Undeterred, Mr Wong, a Hong Kong national who speaks limited English, gathered information from about 20 Winit colleagues. With evidence of underpayments collected, he contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman and made a request for assistance.

“There were people who believed they should be paid more money for overtime, but a lot of them were very scared about contacting [the Fair Work Ombudsman],” Mr Wong said. “I was not scared; I believe Australia is a society with regulations.”

The result of Mr Wong reading about his rights and coming forward for help was, ultimately, back-payments in full for 30 migrant employees who were underpaid a total of $368,684.

This included $13,000 in back-pay for Mr Wong himself.

The Fair Work Ombudsman pursued the case in court and also secured $558,190 in penalties against the employer and one of its directors.

Mr Wong said, “It’s not so much about the money or justice, it’s about receiving the correct entitlements and being treated fairly. That was the happiest part for me.”

According to Mr Wong, the large court-ordered penalty was expected. The Court found that the company knowingly underpaid its employees and knew that overtime, Sunday and public holiday penalties should have been paid.

“It was certainly deliberate,” Mr Wong said.

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth urged migrant workers to do what Mr Wong did and educate themselves on their rights, then come forward for help if needed.

“Migrant workers have the same rights at work as other employees in Australia. These rights must be met even if you have breached visa conditions. We encourage migrant workers to reach out to us for information and help,” Ms Booth said.

“Protecting vulnerable and migrant workers is an enduring Fair Work Ombudsman priority. Workers like Mr Wong who come to us for help play an important role in allowing us to hold employers to account.”

“Remember – your employer cannot take any adverse action against you, including fire you, because you reach out to the Fair Work Ombudsman for help. The law protects you,” Ms Booth said.

Migrant workers make up around seven per cent of the Australian workforce, yet they are overrepresented in the Fair Work Ombudsman’s compliance and enforcement work. They accounted for 17 per cent of all formal disputes completed, about 20 per cent of anonymous reports received, and 15 per cent of all litigations initiated in 2022-23.

The FWO filed 138 litigations involving visa holder workers, and secured $15 million in court-ordered penalties in visa holder litigations, in the six financial years to June 2023.

Learn about workplace rights and entitlements in our Visa holders and migrant workers fact sheet. Know a workplace not doing the right thing but don’t want to get involved? Report it anonymously – in 16 languages other than English.

The FWO’s website translator instantly translates information at www.fairwork.gov.au into 40 languages other than English. This complements the Fair Work Ombudsman’s professionally translated materials available here.

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