PAYING THE PRICE:A labor activist said Taiwanese employers in Australia often take advantage of Taiwanese backpackers’ weak language skills and lack of legal knowledge
By Lii Wen / Staff reporter
A former employee at the Australian branch of the Taiwanese bakery and coffee chain 85°C yesterday said the company exploited Taiwanese youth with working holiday visas by paying them much lower salaries than the local minimum wage.
At a video press conference hosted by the Youth Labor 95 Union, the former employee, surnamed Jung (莊), but preferring to be known by his English name Allen, said from a location in Sydney that 85°C paid him only A$12 (US$10.60) an hour during his employment at a franchise store from July to last month.
Labor activist Chou Yu-hsuan (周于萱) said Jung’s wages fell short of the Australian minimum wage of A$16.87 an hour, while also being considerably less than the minimum of A$21.08 per hour for casual or short-term work contracts common to backpackers.
The Youth Labor 95 Union demanded that 85°C issue a public apology and provide financial compensation to Jung, threatening further protests and boycotts against the chain in collaboration with Australian labor groups and unions.
Taiwanese employers in Australia often exploit Taiwanese backpackers on working holiday visas, taking advantage of poor language skills and unfamiliarity with local labor regulations, she said.
Jung said he and several former colleagues have already reported the case to the Fair Work Ombudsman in Australia, demanding that 85°C pay them their wages as required by the Australian minimum wage regulations. He said the company owes him A$9,000 in unpaid wages.
Jung said the 85°C store he worked at exclusively employed backpackers from Taiwan and China, and the wages they offered were much lower than local rates.
Before traveling to Australia on a working holiday visa, Jung worked in the technology sector in Taiwan, receiving a monthly salary of about NT$30,000 (US$1,000), which offered a “frugal” lifestyle, he said.
Seeking to improve his English, Jung traveled to Australia earlier this year, only to find himself again struggling financially, he added.
In response, 85°C public relations and marketing director Cathy Chung (鐘靜如) said that Jung’s allegations were false, and that he did not return to his post after taking a week-long vacation last month.
She added that the company paid Jung A$640 per week, which amounted to A$16 per hour for a 38-hour work week, comparable to the minimum wage in Australia.
“In the past, we prioritized hiring Taiwanese backpackers as employees in the spirit of providing more opportunities to Taiwanese,” Chung said. “In light of this event, this is a policy that we would like to reconsider.”
Commenting on the incident, the Australian Office Taipei, Australia’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, said in an e-mail to the Taipei Times that all employees in Australia are entitled to the same legal protection, including those with working holiday visas.
“While I am not aware of the details of this specific case, it seems from press reports that the employee has sought the protection offered all workers by Australian law,” said an Australian Office Taipei spokesperson, who preferred to remain anonymous.
The office also said that Australia has no plans to set a quota for working holiday visas for Taiwanese.