Footscray community legal service WEstjustice has landed a prestigious community sector award for its work tackling issues with employment faced by migrants and refugees.

WEstjustice was honoured at last week’s HESTA Community Sector Awards with the Outstanding Organisation Award for its assistance in helping vulnerable people with issues such as recovering unpaid entitlements and seeking compensation for discrimination and unlawful termination.

The award recognised the importance of the Employment Law Project, established in 2014 to tackle the exploitation of migrants and refugees in the workplace.

Senior solicitor Tarni Perkal said their service is the only one in Australia solely focused on supporting the refugee community about their employment rights in Australia.

“Employment plays a big part in refugee and migrant settlement. It’s at the heart of their identity and unfortunately they’re not always afforded the respect they deserve,” she said.

“Over the last few years since the program was established, we’ve managed to retrieve orders for over $300,000 in unpaid wages
and super, and compensation for unfair treatment which goes some way to making sure they get the fair go that Australia is known for.”


The Employment Project team at WEstjustice.

Bilingual and community leaders supporting the Employment Project team at WEstjustice.

Ms Perkal said the prize money will be used to employ more bilingual community workers, to help broaden awareness of the assistance that is available through the service.

She said the program is only funded until the middle of next year but she is hopeful the recognition offered by the award may help in securing longer-term funding.

“We hope that at some point the service is largely obsolete, that there will be equality and fairness and businesses are not going to undercut those doing the right thing by taking advantage of employees.”

WEstjustice last year issued a report revealing large numbers of migrants living in Melbourne’s west are exploited at work.

The Not Just Work report showed exploitation is rife in industries including food processing, hospitality, security, cleaning, construction, manufacturing and care work.