By Saskia Edwards. Edited for online by Bernard Thompson.

Migrant advocates are concerned the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit proposal to reduce the minimum wage will significantly lower foreign workers’ standard of living.

The Commission of Audit, released earlier this week, recommends the minimum wage be lowered from 56 per cent to 44 per cent of the average wage.

The 1,200 page document says “the level of the national minimum wage is essentially a societal choice”.

It means a pay packet of $610 today would equate to $480 under the new proposal.

It would affect hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who work in entry level jobs in the hospitality, retail and manufacturing industries.

Immigrant workers in hospitality will be affected by the proposed changes.
Immigrant workers in hospitality will be affected by the proposed changes. (Source: Flickr Michael Coghlan).


Migrant Centre Organisation manager Anna Zubac says foreign workers are already grossly underpaid in these positions.

Ms Zubac says they are worked to the point of exploitation.

“Not many of them have the chance to make minimum wages, they are very well underpaid,” Ms Zubac said.

“They will do anything for the dollar, they need to earn money.

“They have family members overseas and they are literally forced to work to send the money to those in need.”

ANU political scientist Gwen Grey agrees and is concerned the most likely to be affected are women.

She says it would make it harder for people already under financial pressure.

“I think that is a very regressive step and really means that those who are already getting very low wages that are not really enough to raise children or run a household will get even poorer,” Ms Grey said.

“We must remember that most of these are women.”

Ms Zubac says their expectations of for a better life have been already been dashed by government policy.

“Do you think they expected to go through that after they reach Australia?” she said.

“I don’t think so. I think they’re deeply disappointed.”

Economic benefit questioned

ACCESS Community Services migrant employment officer Michael Krafft says many of these people work in the lowest paying positions.

Mr Krafft says in these situations people do not even have the bare essentials and changes to their wages would affect them adversely.

“Newly arrived migrants will take up entry level jobs which are at the minimum wage, so it’s going to be very difficult,” Mr Krafft said.

“It might be the difference between eating properly or living on sub-standard food.”

“There have been quite a few examples of people that have been living on a diet of instant noodles which is definitely not healthy for you.”

University of Adelaide employment expert John Spoehr questions the economic benefit of lowering the minimum wage.

He says it might even have a detrimental effect.

“There is no real evidence that lowering the minimum wage will drive up employment growth,” Mr Spoehr said.

“In fact there is some evidence that it will have the opposite effect because it tends to drive down demand for goods and services.”