Bright Ideas Employment Law Project – seeks to improve employment outcomes for newly arrived and refugee communities in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
The Employment Law Project within the Footscray Community Legal Centre seeks to improve employment outcomes for newly arrived and refugee communities in Melbourne’s western suburbs. The project currently builds on a period of consultation and features a pilot employment legal service, community education and a “train-the-trainer” program.
The Project is targeted at newly arrived and refugee communities in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The largest group of clients currently are refugees who arrived on humanitarian visas, while the second largest are international students.
Australians of refugee background are more likely to be engaged in low income, precarious forms of employment, and are more likely to experience discrimination. Recently arrived and refugee communities face multiple barriers that prevent them from accessing mainstream legal services. Research done by the Footscray Community Legal Centre indicates that newly arrived and refugee communities have a very limited understanding of Australian laws and services. This means that many members of refugee communities are unable to identify that they have employment law related issues, and many do not know where to go for assistance when issues arise.
In situations where community members are able to identify employment problems there are barriers that limit the ability of refugee communities to meaningfully engage with legal services. For example, people of refugee background may have past negative experiences of legal systems and authority figures, which deter them from seeking advice or enforcing their rights. Practical issues including proficiency in English, difficulties in using a telephone advice line, accessing internet resources, finding appropriate interpreters and travelling to appointments also prevent individuals from enforcing their rights.
In order to obtain and retain employment that is sustainable, it is essential that workers are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities, and are able to access employment law advice and information. However, there are limited mainstream services and no targeted employment law services for newly arrived communities and so, the Employment Law Project developed in response to this unmet need. Footscray Community Legal Centre decided to explore and document the working experiences of newly arrived and refugee communities in more detail, to ensure provision of better and targeted support services.
The project provides support services through a pilot employment law service and a community education program that provides information sessions for newly arrived and refugee communities. Other sessions are also available for community workers, to assist them to identify when their clients may have an employment or discrimination law matter and how to refer them.
Through the “train-the-trainer” program, comprehensive training in employment laws and services is provided to six Community Education Officers over nine days, assisting participants to develop and distribute community legal education to their communities in the west of Melbourne. The participating leaders are able to visit a number of key employment and anti-discrimination law agencies throughout this training. Additionally, participants were supported to develop a community education presentation, which they will deliver to their communities in a culturally appropriate and targeted way.
The participants then act as an important link between their communities and agencies by raising awareness that those affected by employment problems can get advice from agencies, including the Footscray Community Legal Centre.
To date, the Centre has successfully recovered over $20,000 in non-payment and underpayment matters, including unpaid superannuation for clients who were employees or independent contractors. There are more cases underway that are yet to be determined.
The Centre has also assisted numerous clients with claims regarding unfair termination; with over $30,000 in compensation being recovered, as well as other outcomes that focus on assisting clients find new work. The Footscray Community Legal Centre also helped clients keep their jobs, by assisting with drafting letters and negotiating with employers.
One of the Centre’s many success stories is a worker who was paid $11 an hour for work carried out in the hospitality industry. The worker was fired when he informed his employer that he was going to make a complaint about being underpaid. FCLC negotiated with the employer who agreed to pay the outstanding legal entitlements and over $3000 was recovered.
The ongoing challenge is to provide for the unmet needs of their clients with very limited resources.
Advice for others
Consultation, collaboration and communication with stakeholders is a vital part of providing such a service. These stakeholders are made up of community leaders, communities, settlement agencies and other service-providers, community organisations, government, volunteers and many others and these links need be well maintained.