Worker Story: Jasmine’s 19,000 fight with the FEG

Jasmine moved to Australia in 2014 on a partner sponsored visa. She got a warehouse job for retail giant Riot Art and Craft, where she worked full time on a permanent contract for nearly 6 years. In May, Jasmine came to us for advice: she has been fighting tirelessly for $19,000 in unpaid wages since her employer liquidated the business in October last year. But because the Fair Entitlements Guarantee discriminates against workers on temporary visas, it’s unlikely she’ll see a cent of the unpaid wages she’s owed.

Last October, her employer Riot Art and Craft unexpectedly went into administration. Thousands of workers across the country lost their jobs overnight, sacked via text message without warning. Jasmine recalls, “They messaged us at 9pm, there was no warning [...] we were so scared and upset [...] they don’t care about us, they cared only about the money.” Jasmine was left $19,000 out of pocket in unpaid wages. Since then, she’s been fighting an uphill battle with not only the liquidators but also the Government’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee, which discriminates on the basis of visa status.

               

Despite over five years of permanent full time employment at the Riot warehouse under her belt - Jasmine’s employer extended no support or empathy. The only communication she’s received apart from the text message is curt letters from the liquidator stating it was unlikely she would recover her unpaid wages.

There’s a back up safety net for many workers in situations like this: the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG). The FEG a Federal Government scheme of last resort that provides financial assistance for unpaid employee entitlements in insolvency. However, it only covers workers who are Australian citizens. This gaping hole in the safety net means every year, countless workers in Australia lose wages because they happen to be a temporary visa holder when their employer liquidates the business - it doesn't matter how long they’ve worked for the employer or how many years they’ve lived in Australia.

“I’m strong enough to fight” says Jasmine, but the gap in FEG is a loophole to legalized wage theft. All her attempts to contact her employer and the liquidator lead back to the FEG. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how determined migrant workers like Jasmine are if the legislation doesn’t meet our needs.

It’s a glaring example of how the Government uses visa status to discriminate between workers doing the same job. The limitations to the FEG pushes migrant workers down as disposable second class citizens. It shouldn’t be up to workers like Jasmine to fight uphill battles against big business owners. The Federal Government needs to expand the Fair Entitlements Guarantee to ensure all workers in Australia have a safety net to fall back on.