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The casual service industry is broken

  • 14 December 2018


Senator David Leyonhjelm recently thanked men from South Asian backgrounds for delivering his pizza, groceries and online purchases. He praised them for rolling up their sleeves for jobs other Australians refused.

This gesture is seriously problematic. The casual service industry is broken and exploitative — it needs to be carefully regulated and constantly audited.

Many people, local and immigrant alike, who are employed in casual jobs leave them because the jobs are full of problems. The Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS) found 19 per cent of casual employees exited their job during the first 12 months of employment, compared to 7 per cent of employees in more secure forms of work.

There is very little incentive to stay. Last July, Fair Work inspectors forced business to pay $472,000 to 616 employees after their audit of the hospitality industry in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. 72 per cent of businesses had underpaid their employees.

'Wage theft has become a business model in hospitality, in retail and across the workforce,' Jess Walsh, the Victorian secretary of United Voice, told the Guardian this year.

Migrants make up 6 per cent of hospitality employees, and 18 per cent of disputes resolved by the Fair Work Ombudsman involved employees on a visa.

Migrants are seriously disadvantaged because they are rarely informed of their rights as employees or of the in-built system of exploitation in many casual jobs. They are often oblivious of industry pay rates, penalty rates or bodies of assistance like the Fair Work Ombudsman.


"These workers do not need to be thanked for undertaking these jobs. They need to be encouraged to stand up for themselves, to be change-makers in their respective industries."


Physical violence, particularly at night-time, is rife. The union representing fast food employees recently launched its 'No One Deserves a Serve' campaign to counter violence experienced by employees. Out of a survey of a 1000 employees, 87 per cent reported experiencing violence from unhappy customers.

Working in hospitality I have seen several of my colleagues pushed around and shouted at by angry and entitled men. They then have to return home late at night on public transport, increasing their chances of experiencing gender-based violence.

Migrants are also victimised by racial discrimination and unconscious bias in hiring decisions, raises and promotions. At one place of employment, I had been trained to run the bar. After the holiday season, the role had been filled by an American girl who had joined after me.