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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5869

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (17:26): These go to extending the application of the prohibition of unreasonable demands for money by employers to prospective employees. Yes. There was a bit of discussion, and some questions were put to me by Senator Xenophon, on how this would work, and there were some concerns that it may be a problem for some businesses.

We had some submissions to the inquiry, and I think the submission that was important, in terms of this issue of the unreasonable demands made to prospective employees, came from WEstjustice. I draw Senator Xenophon's attention to that submission. I will just take you through some of the issues that WEstjustice raised in relation to this very issue. The submission says this:

In addition to traditional underpayment or non-payment of wages and 'cash-back' schemes requiring unreasonable payments to an employer, WEstjustice has recently seen the emergence of employers claiming to be able to offer work in return for a vulnerable worker paying them an initial upfront fee and/or expending money on vehicles or equipment. In most circumstances, the job never eventuates and the vulnerable workers are left with the difficult task of trying to recover their funds.

There were a couple of case studies, and one was Dugung's. It says:

Dugung paid $10,500 to his employer for training to become a cleaner. He was told he would complete 10 days of training and once training was complete, that he would start work. He was promised a weekly income of $2600.

After 10 days of training, Dugung was told that he did not have a job as there was not enough work for him. His boss made two refund payments to him, one of $4500 and one of $3000. When Dugung asked for the remaining $3000 he was told that this money had been deducted for training costs.

Dugung was not paid for his training and came to see Western CLC for advice on getting his money back.

The next case study was Tanvir's. It says:

Tanvir found an advertisement for plastering work on a popular trading website. The employer told him he would need to pay $2500 as bond for the work vehicle and to the access for the building site. Tanir met the employer and paid the $2500 in cash. The employer told him he would get the contract on his first day of work.

After a week, Tanvir had still had not heard from the employer so he called him a number of times. The employer did not respond at all and has now disappeared.

The employer disappeared with this poor potential employee's $2½ thousand. Quan was another one they indicated:

Quan was working as a courier. He was offered work but he was told he was required to pay $15,000 to the employer for a "run" (opportunity to work). Quan signed a contract which guaranteed $2000 per week income. Quan paid the $15,000 and signed the contract. However, the employer only paid him about $1000 per week and he was still owed $5000 in wages.

After a lawyer assisted Quan to draft a letter of demand for both the unpaid wages and the $15,000 he had paid for the work, the employer gave him a cheque for $15,000; however when Quan banked the cheque it was dishonoured. The employer then began repaying the debt by installments, however this too stopped after two installments.

My view is that these are the tip of the iceberg out there. As per this submission to the inquiry, they say reforms are needed to assist employees or prospective employees in this situation and to deter this kind of behaviour from employers.

This is just one legal firm who are looking after some migrant workers and workers who are being exploited, and these are the issues that it is raising. That's why Labor is of the view that the amendments we are putting forward, to extend the application of this prohibition of unreasonable demands for money by an employer, should be expanded to prospective employees. These are the practical examples we're trying to deal with, and, Senator Xenophon, if I'm correct, your concern was that it might be onerous and too wideranging. That's not the view of the people in these legal services that are dealing with some of the most exploited workers in the country. We would ask you and all of the crossbench to turn your minds to this issue: the principle that once you are an employee you can get some protection, but if you're a prospective employee then it's open slather on you by an unjust employer and they can steal money from you. This is the appropriate place to deal with it because the principle is the same. It's only a question of timing whether you're a prospective employee or employer. Senator Xenophon, that's the issue and some of the examples that you asked for.