Why we need to keep fighting for workers’ rights this Labour Day

Labour Day honours the proud history of hard-fought victories won by and for working people in this country. The list of achievements is long: from the eight hour day, to the weekend, to enforceable safety standards in the workplace. Labour Day reminds us of the struggles working people face on a daily basis, and how these gains can all too easily be taken away.

In recent years, stable employment has been declining. We’ve seen the rise of casual or gig-based work (like Uber), which has contributed to the erosion of worker’s rights. Young people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are particularly likely to be exploited in their employment. To tackle the on-going problem of workplace exploitation, Australia has substantive protections available to workers. But workers need support to enforce these protections.

The role of legal help in workers’ rights

At Justice Connect, we help vulnerable workers by connecting them with free legal help. Our Self Representation Service provides legal assistance to self-represented people asserting their workplace rights in the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court.

Tessa*, for example, worked as a waiter in a busy Melbourne restaurant. She only earned $12 an hour. Tessa suspected her conditions at work were unfair, but she didn’t know how to do anything about it.  She went looking for help and found Justice Connect.

Justice Connect helped Tessa prepare her court application. After an initial consultation, we helped her prepare a summary of her claim and strong evidence of being underpaid. We also helped Tessa expedite her hearing, so she could have her day in court before her visa expired. Eventually, Tessa’s request for an early hearing was granted. A few weeks later, the Judge ordered that her old boss pay her $20,000 in unpaid wages within 21 days.

Helping workers assert their rights

Without legal help, Tessa would have struggled to make her boss accountable for the systematic wage theft they were carrying out. Justice Connect provides workers with information and resources to navigate court processes and assert their rights. We also help people access free legal help, so people like Tessa can get the support they need. 

*Names changed

The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

— Rose Schneiderman