Australian hotel group accused of systematic staff exploitation

The Sun-Herald has published a devastating expose of alleged worker exploitation by a Blue Mountains luxury hotel group. 

The Escarpment Group includes the prestigious Hydro Majestic, Lilianfels and Echoes hotels in the NSW tourist region, as well as Country Garden and Lodges in Blackheath and the Convent Hunter Valley Hotel in Pokolbin.

It is alleged the company recruits overseas workers on 407 training visas who are expected to work long hours of unpaid overtime and pay inflated board and lodging rents.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”15046″ align=”left”]The workers pay more than $6600 for a 52-week internship and share a small bedroom that their employer rents to them through a visa system which, according to the government’s Migrant Worker Taskforce chief Allan Fels, allows exploitation to go unchecked.

The newspaper quotes Indian citizen Arindam Biswas, an experienced hospitality employee with a masters degree in international hospitality business management who was, until last month, a front desk clerk at the iconic Hydro Majestic.

Biswas earned $1626 a fortnight but saw more than half reclaimed by his employer as rent for board and lodgings in a twin bedroom. At $480 a week, the shared room cost $60 more than the market rate for an entire house in the Blue Mountains.

Biswas said he was shocked when the company required him to share a small bedroom with another person and then took $480 a week out of his salary for rent and food. It left him with about $330 a week in his pocket, not enough to start paying off his student debts.

“I have friends who have worked at hotels in Australia who saved three times as much as me,” he said. “I am sure I am the most underpaid front desk agent in the country.”

Workers who asked to move out of the accommodation were told the rent and board charge was compulsory and warned they would have to terminate their contracts and visas if they moved out of the hotel group’s provided accommodation, according to the Sun-Herald.

And some (though not Biswas) claim that while their time sheets and rosters showed they worked up to 50 hours each week, a second set of time sheets they were asked to sign recorded only 38 hours of work per week, with any overtime unpaid.

The Sun-Herald reports interviewing nine people who have worked for the hotel group since April last year and examining the pay slips and time sheets of seven who came to Australia from overseas on the promise of on-the-job training.

It says the workers described feeling like “prisoners” but were too scared of reprisals to be identified, one arguing: “For me, I am in a first world country working in third-world [conditions]”.

Training is minimal to non-existent in some cases, workers claim, and meals are sometimes not provided at all, or until complaints were raised about the standard of meals late last year, usually consisted of leftovers.

In a statement, the Escarpment Group has denied underpaying or exploiting any of its employees, including those on 407 visas, while acknowledging it is under the investigation of the Department of Home Affairs and Fair Work.

“Escarpment Group is co-operating with that investigation and believes that it has acted in accordance with the applicable industrial laws,” the statement said. “The investigation is continuing therefore it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time.”

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