A Sydney based legal service is expanding its reach to Griffith, honing in on supporting vulnerable migrant workers. Migrant Employment Legal Services (MELS) spoke with representatives of Griffith's services community involved with supporting migrants and refugees Thursday in the hopes to build a strong network of supports to help combat worker exploitation.
Program director at MELS, Tu Le said the service is wanting to work with regional areas like Griffith, where there are dense populations of migrant workers, to help slow alarming trends in exploitation and wage theft.
Present at Thursday's meeting were representatives from the Multicultural Interagency Group in Griffith, Linking Communities Network and Centacare who are all shared harrowing stories of people in the migrant community being exploited, hurt and often left isolated.
Nine out of ten temporary visa holders suffer from wage theft in silence says Ms Le, which means that people know they are being exploited but feel they cannot speak out about it.
"The most important thing in our experience is despite a service like ours existing, people are still not speaking up which can be a reflection of the access these people have to services," Ms Le said.
"The biggest thing is building trust, so working closely with service providers within Griffith is such a vital step because they are the ones that have the relationship with these clients."
Employment is a vital step to successful settlement, explained Ms Le but often vulnerable migrants are not aware they have the same employment rights as Australians, and can be exploited in the workplace.
MELS was established in 2019 to help end migrant worker exploitation. They provide free and confidential employment legal advice and representation to temporary visa holders and migrant workers in NSW, including but not limited to refugees, working holiday makers and international students.
"Our approach has been to engage and work collaboratively with multicultural communities, organisations and service providers across NSW to spread awareness about workplace laws and improve access to legal services in NSW, particularly for communities who traditionally do not access mainstream services."