Road to nowhere
IMMIGRANTS PREYING ON IMMIGRANTS IS BAD NEWS FOR BUSINESS, SAYS SIMON LORD.
Catching the cheats will not only make life better for people who deserve our protection; it will help promote better businesses.”
WHEN BRITAIN LOST its American colonies, it realised that it needed a new penal destination and decided upon Australia. The early settlers – the majority of them enforced – struggled in this strange land, and a lack of the most basic commodities and skills made life harder still.
“I am without one botanist, or even an intelligent gardener,” lamented Captain Phillip of the First Fleet.
Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that the arrivals would take whatever shortcuts they could to an easier life. “When they couldn’t fool their masters the prisoners could often fool their fellows,” Bill Bryson writes in his book Down Under. “For years there existed an illicit commerce in which newly-arrived convicts were sold maps showing them how to walk to China. Up to 60 at a time fled their captivity in the belief that magically accommodating land lay just the other side of a vaguely distant river.”
The fate of those who managed to evade capture on the road to nowhere can be imagined.
I’ve been reminded of this recently by a series of investigations in Australia into various types of employment fraud being practised upon immigrant employees. The frauds include underpayment, excessive hours, unjustifiable ‘ fees’ or ‘deductions’, and scams whereby employees are being asked to pay large sums of money to be given jobs which would qualify them for visas, or threatened with being reported for breaching their visa conditions if they complain about their conditions.
Of course, such problems aren’t limited to just Australia. We’ve had our share of such scandals here, too, most notably involving the (non-franchised) Masala restaurant chain, whose owners have just forfeited a massive $8 million in assets and are facing deportation having been found guilty of tax evasion and immigration-related offending.
But the Australian cases have been worrying because they have involved franchisees of some of the biggest names in franchising there.
The media have made much of the fact that these franchisees are preying upon immigrants, who are often ignorant of their rights, scared and vulnerable to all sorts of shoddy tactics. But although the names of the alleged miscreants are often quoted, it is never overtly stated that they are immigrants or from immigrant families themselves, and usually come from the same part of the world as their victims. These are people who don’t know or, more likely, choose to ignore the employment laws of their new land. Instead, they bring attitudes and practices to the rights of employees that most Aussies and Kiwis find repugnant. Like those early Australian settlers, they exploit others who have arrived even more recently than themselves.
In these cases, it’s easy to blame the franchisors for inadequate training or insufficient oversight of their franchisees’ employment practices, or to suggest that the business model itself requires corners to be cut on wages. However, most franchisees in these systems don’t do this – it’s just that, in the public’s eyes, trading under a common brand makes them guilty by association.
The tragedy is that, as many award-winning franchisees have shown, franchising is a fantastic way for immigrants to establish themselves in their new country. It offers them a route into business with all the knowledge and support they need to turn their hard work into self-sufficiency. But if they abuse that opportunity, they deserve to be exposed and expelled.
NAME AND SHAME
Here in New Zealand, the Labour Inspectorate has warned that they are now looking at small businesses and specifically franchises. They are aware that catching one rogue franchisee will damage the whole brand, but have a ‘name and shame’ policy to ensure the media gives maximum publicity.
This is a concern, of course, but as a speaker from the Inspectorate pointed out at a recent Franchise Association event, franchises should be supportive of their investigations into all businesses because employers who underpay staff are not competing on a level playing field with those complying with the law.
Catching the cheats will not only make life better for people who deserve our protection; it will help promote better businesses. And that’s where franchising should score highly with immigrant entrepreneurs and employees alike.