Student sues security firms over 'slave wage'

July 8, 2008
Man claims he was underpaid for work at Australian Open

A Pakistani student who worked in security at this year's Australian Tennis Open is taking the companies he worked for to court, claiming they paid him "a slave's wage".

Faisal Durrani, 23, says he worked for 150 hours at this year's Australian Open in Melbourne, but his reward was a measly $200 - the equivalent of a $1.26 an hour.

A number of security contractors who worked at the Australian Open in January are being taken to court over an alleged labour rort.

Mr Durrani's lawyer, Andrew Weinmann, told ABC radio's The World Today that it is one of the most brazen cases he has come across.

"Well one of the difficulties with this case is that we've got two organisations, each of which is blaming the other for the failure to pay our client's wages," he said.

"He's made a number of attempts to recover his money, since then we've made a number of attempts on his behalf, but so far six months later he's only go $200 for the work he did.

"It's the most grave case I've come across before.

"We commonly enough see people not paid properly but in this case our client has been paid barely at all - that's very unusual."

The Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union represents security guards and the union's Victorian secretary, Jess Walsh, says most security operators try to do the right thing.

But she says it is not uncommon for some fly-by-night operators to cheat their employees.

"The problem occurs with those smaller contractors sometimes that may not be operating at the same level, the same standard as the larger companies that are covered by the collective agreements," she said.

"In addition we sometimes see subcontracting to smaller and essentially unregulated companies occurring and that's where the problems arise."

Moral obligations

The Australian Open and the operators of the Rod Laver Arena are not named as respondents in the case and there is no allegation that they breached any agreements.

But Ms Walsh says they have a moral obligation to be more vigilant about which contractors they hire.

She says the concerns extend beyond the workers.

"I think people should be concerned about what the level of security service is that is being provided by a company that cannot even meet its minimum obligations to pay people correctly," she said.

"So I think there should be some broad community concern about this issue and there should be some support for tougher regulation."

The Australian Security Industry Association says there is no need for extra regulation.

The group's industrial relations adviser, Chris Delaney, says in any industry there are a few people who do not follow the rules.

He says employees have a number of avenues they can pursue if they feel they have been cheated.

"Any employee who is underpaid does have an opportunity to take their case to be heard by as I said the Workplace Ombudsman on their behalf or get the union to help them," he said.

"The subcontracting arrangements that do get put in place from time to time are usually there because the manpower is insufficient in one particular organisation to do the work.

"But it shouldn't lead to, in any instance, an employee being underpaid."