Chinese illegal labours trapped in Sydney’s Covid-19 epicentre

Step into the life of 'Allen' and 'Fish'

China town during the ban
China town of Sydney during the ban. Photographer: Zhongwu Jiang

I’m just like a bird trapped in this cage-Sydney.“-Allen ( Pseudonym)

Allen( Pseudonym), whose visa has been expired for more than half a year, is a full time staff in an entertainment venue. Already 34 years old, as a father of 2 children, Allen had been in Sydney for 2 years and encountered the Sydney closure of the city caused by Covid-19. During the epicentre, his workplace closed and he could not find another one due to the ban.

In fact, Allen was completely caught in the middle. As an illegal immigrant, the special period now does not give him any choice. The price of air tickets back to China increased dozens of times during the epidemic, so Allen ’s option to return to China did not exist. ” I’m just like a bird trapped in this cage, Sydney,” Allen says.

However, staying in Sydney means he has to pay rent and living expenses. Because of his illegal immigration status, he could not get any government or company subsidies. ” This is completely out of imagine. How could I know that the virus could be transmitted here after the outbreak in China?” Allen says.

In the face of such a dilemma, Allen is very longing for re-working. “My salary was low, but as long as I work for long time a day, that would be some money,” he says.

In fact, before the outbreak, illegal workers like Allen had already encountered difficulties. In Sydney, the salary of vulnerable groups has always been a problem. They may be students, tourists, or illegal immigrants.

They are engaged in manual labor and are paid well below the legal minimum wage and most of them will not resist. ” I know I am an illegal worker, so that money is enough for me,” Allen said, ” That’s the rule of the game, everybody here knows that.”

Video:Meet the migrants speaking out about wage theft,The Feed SBS, 10.17,2019.

In fact, Chinese migrant workers are most likely to be hired by Chinese-run shops. These stores are mainly catering and service industries, and these shops are unabashed for illegal low wages. Most illegal workers, unlike students who do part-time in Sydney, often have poor English, so their choices are severely restricted.

In order to more intuitively display the salary level of Chinese stores in Sydney, we surveyed and counted the salaries of different Chinese stores. We chose one of Sydney’s most prosperous areas-Haymarket, where there are many Chinese shops (such as those concentrated in Chinatown), and there are also a large number of illegal workers.

We counted the salaries of all basic positions (waiters, cashiers) and got this chart. The average salary for basic positions in Chinese stores is around $ 13 per hour. While according to Austrilia policy, The current minimum wage in Australia is $740.80 per week, which equates to a minimum hourly rate of $19.49.

When asked about his views on illegal salaries, Allen said: ” In fact, we are all used to it. It is already a lot of money to convert to RMB. If I work long enough, I can make up for the low salary”. And he has always tried to make up as he said: before the epicentre, Allen worked 60 hours a week.

Salary statistics of Chinese stores in Haymarket area of Sydney

Salary statistic of Chinese stores in Haymarket area of Sydney. Created by Zhongwu Jiang.

“I can be a real international student now”-Fish ( Pseudonym)

Fish is an international student in USYD. Australian law stipulates that the time limit for university students to work during school is 40 hours per fortnight. In the past two years, Fish basically maintained more than 40 hours of work intensity per week.

In terms of salary, Fish also suffered unfair treatment. She worked as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, and her salary rose from $ 12 an hour to $ 14 an hour before the outbreak. ” This is how the whole system works. You can’t change it, you can only try to cater to it,” says Fish.

Compared to Allen, as an international student, Fish’s situation is lucky. Before the epidemic, Fish was also doing excessive physical work to help her family reduce the pressure on tuition. Now that the epidemic has broken out, her parents have come forward to help her.

“Now, I finally could be a real international student, just like all my classmates.” says Fish,” You know, it’s really difficult to keep the balance between study and work.” No more working,  she experienced a life she had never experienced as an international student for two years. While this kind of life- no intensive working, is quite normally for the other students.

Fish always smiles when it comes to rest at home. Her smile made her look like a child who did bad things. “In fact, I don’t want the ban to be lifted, because then I can’t convince myself not to go to work,” Fish says,” God, I want to be isolated at home for a year. Fish has done “part time job”, which is more like a full time job, for 2 years, and she is 21 years this year.

“Since we are all online classes now, and it is expected to be online classes next semester, many of my classmates have returned to China,” Fish says,” But I can’t go back, the airfare is too expensive.” Just like Allen’s situation, airfare fees became the biggest obstacle to their return to China.

  • Illegal worker smoking during his break

As Chinese who are trapped in Sydney for illegal work, Allen and Fish have many superficial similarities but also essential differences. With the outbreak of Covid-19, some of the group felt helpless and some felt simple happiness. The epidemic will end, they still have to continue their journey in a foreign country.

Illegal workers from China have already penetrated into the Sydney society. They may have passed you by countless times, but you never really know them.

After reading this article, what is your attitude towards illegal workers from China? Please click on the option below to participate in the vote, let us see your attitude.

Which of the following options is more inclined to your attitude towards the group of illegal workers?




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