Systemic, sustained and shameful: the exploitation of workers

He sat across from me at a table in the cafe and as I I listened, I recognised his concern for his friends from overseas, who had come to Australia to study and had to work excessively long hours to pay for the privilege of studying here. He was looking for funding to provide food for his friends so that they would not have to work so long each week. 

Is it possible that these young workers are being exploited? In March, 2022, the Senate Economic References Committee examining unlawful underpayment of employees, tabled a report into the unlawful underpayment of migrant workers in Australia. They described the problem as “systemic, sustained and shameful”. The report highlights weaknesses in the laws intended to protect workers from exploitation by employers. While the government fails to act, migrants (including asylum seekers and refugees) can become enslaved in our country. 

The problem has existed for as long as society has existed. Cardijn identified it as a product of liberalism. In 1949, he presented the Godinne series of lectures titled The Young Worker Faces Life. In the third lecture on the “mystery of vocation,” he made reference to the working class being in “the tomb of error, exploitation, and slavery in which liberalism buried it for centuries.” The release from that tomb is a struggle. 

This is not what God intends for people. The Exodus story reveals God’s plan for people to live freely and to ensure that the goods of the world are there for all people to use and for all generations to come. The attitude that we must bring to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity is revealed to us in the Gospel reading for Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1 (Mark 6:30-34). Mark shows us the compassion of Jesus, who places the needs of others, in this instance, the needs of his apostles and the needs of those who wanted to learn from him, before his own needs. 

All this suggests that we need to have a radical change of mind and heart. We are not put on this earth to acquire as much as we possible can. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to others and to God, to use only what we need and always with an eye on the needs of others who will come after us and the intention to provide for the future. So what action can we take and encourage others to join in doing to ensure the end of exploitation and slavery of workers in our country and in the world? 

I suggest the following as a course of action: Read the report prepared by the Senate Economic References Committee and use social media to encourage others to read it also. Then choose one aspect of the report and the recommendation(s) flowing from it as tabled in the report. Write to your local member to urge them to argue on your behalf for action to happen now, not later. There are probably other and better actions to be carried out to bring about the change that is needed in peoples’ minds and hearts. If you are certain of this, then consider writing a reflection to be posted to this page on the Joseph Cardijn Digital Library website. 


Laurie Berg and Bassina Farenblum: Australia is bringing migrant workers back – but exploitation is still rampant 

The Senate Economics References Committee – Unlawful underpayment of employees’ remuneration

The Young Worker Faces Life – Joseph Cardijn Digital Library

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