Australian employers are blatantly ripping off backpackers and international students, a damning new report has found, and are sometimes engaging in criminal behaviour.

A comprehensive survey of 4,322 people on temporary migrant visas has detailed an alarming account of worker exploitation.

Almost a third of survey participants earned $12 per hour or less, while almost half earned $15 per hour or less – significantly less than the $22.13 legal minimum wage during the time the survey was conducted.

Food services emerged as being particularly bad for underpaying workers, with two in five participants having their lowest paid job in cafés, restaurants and takeaway shops.

Next up were those working in professional services (11 percent), followed by fruit picking (9 percent), cleaning (9 percent) and retail jobs (8 percent).

The fruit-picking industry actually emerged as providing the lowest paid jobs altogether. (Shocking, we know). Almost one in seven participants earned $5 per hour of less, and almost a third earned $10 per hour or less.

Nationality-wise, the international workers earning the least amount of wages came from China, Taiwan and Vietnam, with 75–81 percent of them earning $17 per hour or less, compared with 35-41 percent of American, Irish and British participants.

A small number of participants (4 percent) said someone in their workplace had threatened to report them to the Immigration Department, so it’s not hard to see why some workers – most of whom (around 75 percent) know they’re being underpaid – are afraid of speaking up.

Other examples of exploitative measures included: employees paying the legal amount and then demanding a certain percentage of cash back (as was recently uncovered to be the practise at several 7-Eleven outlets); employees having their passports confiscated by their employer (as happened to 4 percent of respondents); and some employees being forced to pay an upfront ‘deposit’ for a job (5 percent).

“Temporary migrants comprise of up to 11 percent of the Australian labour market,” said the study’s authors, a joint force between UNSW Law and UTS. “Despite the prominence of migrant worker exploitation in the media, there has been limited empirical data on the overall nature and extent of wage theft among international students and backpackers in Australia.”

Well, now there is. And we’re bloody well ripping them off.

Image: Getty Images / Auscape/UIG