All Work, No Pay: a new report by the Migrant Justice Institute shows the legal system is failing underpaid migrant workers

For most migrant workers in Australia, the risks and costs of making a wage claim outweigh the slight prospect of success. Existing legal processes are complex and inaccessible. This incentivises employers to underpay their workers, assuming that workers will never hold them to account.

  • Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum, UNSW


On 20 June 2024, the Migrant Justice Institute published their new report, All Work, No Pay, which describes the ways the legal system is failing migrant workers.  Migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable cohorts of workers in Australia.

Circle Green endorsed the Report in full and wholeheartedly supports the recommendations it makes.

A copy of the report is on our website here.

The Report focuses on the “small claims” process in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.  This process is intended to be simple and accessible for unrepresented litigants. However, this is not borne out in reality and the court remains underutilised and inaccessible for unrepresented migrant workers seeking to recover unpaid wages.

Migrant workers face multiple, compounding barriers to recovering unpaid wages and entitlements. These start with a lack of understanding of their legal entitlements and what assistance is available to calculate their underpayment or attempt to resolve the issue before commencing legal proceedings. Then, they face difficulties with court processes and employer disengagement once a claim is filed; and if they are successful they then face further difficulties enforcing a judgment and receiving the owed money.

WA workers have access to an additional pathway to pursuing underpayment claims – the State-based Industrial Magistrates Court.  The Report does not specifically consider this pathway, however we see our clients face the same, or similar, barriers to justice in that jurisdiction.

Circle Green was quoted to this effect in the Report media release:

“Time and time again in our work we see migrant workers struggle with the small claims processes, or choose not to make claims at all because they are too daunted by the legal system. These are the clients that silently suffer underpayments and maltreatment when they are already facing the challenge of trying to build a life in a new and unfamiliar country.”

  • Imogen Tatam, Senior Lawyer (Law Reform)


The Report sets out a road map for reform and Circle Green urges the Federal Government to consider the recommendations it makes and take steps to ensure that the legal system is not another enabler of migrant worker exploitation.

Take a look at the Migrant Justice Institute website to read more about their work to achieve fair treatment and justice for migrant workers.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that this resource provides general information only. It is not legal advice. If you have a question about how the law applies to your specific situation, you can click here to request free legal assistance.