Migrant justice service under threat

Unfair: Maricar Virata and her partner won a case for unfair dismissal against their employer, the Comfort Inn in Halls Gap. The couple were awarded the maximum pay out by the Fair Work Commission in 2015.
Unfair: Maricar Virata and her partner won a case for unfair dismissal against their employer, the Comfort Inn in Halls Gap. The couple were awarded the maximum pay out by the Fair Work Commission in 2015.

A migrant justice service which recovered $27,500 for an exploited Grampians motel manager could cease to operate without guaranteed government funding. 

WEstJustice Legal Centre’s employment law service has recovered more than a quarter of a million dollars for Victorian workers since the program began in 2014.

Currently the Melbourne-based program receives referrals of groups of five to 10 exploited workers at a time from Western Victoria, senior solicitor Tarni Perkal said.

These workers workers were often being asked to do “enormous amounts” of overtime and were “significantly underpaid”, she said. 

People often have experienced trauma on their pathway to Australia and these kinds of experiences re-traumatise them.

WEstJustice senior solicitor Tarni Perkal

Maricar Virata, who won a case for unfair dismissal against the owners of the Comfort Inn in Halls Gap in 2015, will be the face of WEstJustice Legal Centre’s campaign for federal funds.

Ms Virata and her partner left the Philippines to manage the Comfort Inn in Halls Gap in 2013 for $55,000 a year to share between them. 

The couple soon found themselves working 13 hours a day for what amounted to $5 on hour. A year later they were sacked via email on holiday and returned to Australia without a home or jobs to go to. 

The WEstJustice campaign, launched on Tuesday, comes following calls by the mother of murdered British teenager Mia Ayliffe-Chung, Rosie Ayliffe, for better regulation of Australia’s visa program, in particular the 88 day regional work scheme. 

Ms Perkal said exploitation of migrant and refugee workers was systemic. 

One exploited worker who came to the service described his experience as being “worse than the civil war back home”.

“People often have experienced trauma on their pathway to Australia and these kinds of experiences re-traumatise them.

“The people we talk to really want to be engaged in Australian society.

“They want to contribute and we hear stories from our clients talking about their experience of discrimination or bullying, of being underpaid, of getting different tasks given to them than Australian workers.”

Last year a report released by WEstJustice detailed the experience of migrant workers in regional Victoria, including a tomato picker paid less than $10 an hour at a site without toilets, forcing the workers to “pee wherever they were”. 

The worker, referred to as Joyce, told the service “we were anywhere and they could do anything to us.”

For more information visit: westjustice.org.au/media-and-events.