UnionsACT has today called on the ANU administration to take action against campus businesses that commit wage-theft and exploit workers.

In a media release, the peak body representing unions in the ACT said the ANU must “audit and report” businesses trading on the university’s campus against which accusations of underpayment and non-payment arise.

The organisation referred to an investigation, reported in Woroni and Junkee this week, which found that the franchisee of two Canberra Sumo Salad stores, one of which is located at the Lena Karmel Lodge on Childers St and is a tenant of the ANU, had repeatedly and systematically underpaid their employees.

In a statement, Alex White, secretary of Unions ACT, said that “[t]he ANU administration has a moral responsibility to take action against the illegal behaviour of businesses operating on ANU campus, who ANU takes money from, who employ ANU students, are breaking the law.”

“It is unacceptable that adult employers take advantage of young workers and international students,” he said. “It is even more unacceptable that the ANU administration turns a willful blind eye to the illegality and theft taking place on its property.”

As Woroni reported yesterday, a spokesperson from Sumo Salad head office said that the underpayments were due to a misunderstanding by the franchisee of the award rate. The franchisee had also failed to pay workers’ annual leave and superannuation entitlements. Woroni understands that current and former employees have now been back-paid or reimbursed unpaid wages.

UnionsACT noted that research conducted by Industry Super Australia shows that each year 45,000 Canberrans have an average of $3,400 of their superannuation stolen by employees through underpayments and non-payment. Their own research suggests that as many as 80% of workers aged under 25 have experienced wage-theft within the last twelve months.

A series of Fairfax reports over the last several months have shown how many Australian franchise businesses are under extreme financial stress, often due to intolerable costs and conditions imposed by franchisors such as Retail Food Group, Caltex, Domino’s Pizza (which also operates a franchise on ANU campus), and 7-11. Out of desperation or unscrupulousness, franchisees have been found to have repeatedly turned to wage-theft and other exploitative labour practices.

In February last year Sumo Salad announced that it was partnering with Caltex as part of its ‘The Foodary’ concept, which incorporates food franchises into Caltex locations. Then, in May, Caltex announced that it would establish a $20 million assistance fund to compensate workers who had been victims of wage theft by franchisees.

International students are particularly vulnerable to wage-theft and exploitation at work. In a large study conducted by researchers from UNSW Sydney and UTS, and published in November, it was found that “[a] quarter of all international students earn $12 per hour or less and 43% earn $15 or less in their lowest paid job.” In addition, it said that “workers from Asian countries including China, Taiwan and Vietnam receive lower wage rates than those from North America, Ireland and the UK. Chinese workers are also more likely to be paid in cash.” In 2016 over 60% of the ANU’s new enrolled international undergraduate students were of Chinese background.

Woroni contacted ANU Media for comment on this story, but it had not responded by time of publishing.

White appealed that “any student who believes that they have been the victim of wage theft should contact UnionsACT immediately.”

If you are concerned that you may have been exploited at work on the ANU’s campus, or if you are an ANU student concerned that you may have been exploited at work anywhere, you can contact Woroni’s news editor at max@woroni.com.au.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.