WEstjustice was recognised for establishing the ‘Employment Law Project’ which helps migrants and refugees living in the western suburbs of Melbourne overcome barriers in employment.
The Project empowers them to better understand and enforce their workplace rights by providing free legal advice, legal representation, advocacy and education.
A unique service
The only legal service in Australia solely focussed on the employment needs of migrants and refugees, WEstjustice has helped its clients recover unpaid entitlements, receive compensation for unlawful termination and discrimination, and return to work or find new jobs.
“Employment has been recognised as one of four components — with housing, education and health — necessary for successful settlement in a new country,” says Employment Project Senior Solicitor, Tarni Perkal. “But newly arrived and refugee communities face significant disadvantage in the labour market and are more likely to be engaged in low income or precarious forms of employment, and to experience discrimination. They may not be aware of their rights, and rarely access help. Temporary migrant workers, women and young people face additional barriers.
“After extensive consultation with these communities, we identified a large unmet need for employment law assistance. The WEstjustice Employment Project was set up to address this need with an integrated offering of targeted community legal education and engagement, legal advice and assistance, and advocacy work.
“Since the Project started we have recovered and received orders for over $320,000 in unpaid wages and entitlements, unpaid superannuation and compensation. We’ve also achieved many non-financial wins that were important to our clients, including statements of service, reference letters, apologies, and verbal acknowledgment from employers about the ill-treatment, which can help clients stay in jobs.”
A fairer future
The Project has used the wealth of evidence it has unearthed, as well as research and consultation, to compile a major report that can inform future government policy.
“The Not Just Work Report exposes systemic and widespread exploitation of migrant workers in the Western suburbs of Melbourne across numerous industries and outlines ten critical steps to stop it,” Tarni confirms.
Tarni says the HESTA Community Sector Awards win gives WEstjustice a valuable public platform to highlight the legal issues that newly arrived people face, and to advocate for its 10 step plan to stop migrant worker exploitation, particularly as the project has no ongoing funding beyond mid-2018.
The next step forward
The organisation plans to usethe $10,000 prize money from ME – the bank for you – to employ workers from newly arrived communities that are particularly vulnerable to exploitation at work, to help create better employment outcomes for their communities.
The win is also a reminder to pause and celebrate WEstjustice’s life-changing success in helping vulnerable community members.
“Watching our clients feel supported and empowered to enforce their rights, particularly when they feel justice has been done and they have made a difference for others in their situation in the future, is incredibly rewarding,” Tarni says.
“It’s a joy to work with our wonderful team of volunteers and pro bono lawyers who are dedicated to providing a best practice service for our vulnerable clients.”