the fundamental role played by migrant workers across the globe (low-skilled in particular) and, beyond that, their
equal stance as human beings.
A 2018 report by Co-Directors of the Migrant Workers Justice Initiative, who researched the causes behind
unrecovered wage theft in Australia, shows the importance of denouncing cases of wage theft and provides evidence
of the key role played by trade unions and community organisations in migrant workers’ ability to recover the entirety
(30% of cases) or part of (up to 67% of cases) their unpaid wages. The psychological impact and potential stress
deriving from going through a claim for redress of unpaid wages alone may indeed refrain migrant workers from taking
action. Fear of losing one's own employment, the immigration status enjoyed in the country of destination, procedural
costs and the uncertainty of outcomes are other factors that may prevent migrant workers from denouncing
wrongdoings.
Farbenblum and Berg, the authors of the report, affirm that:
“there is substantial value in devoting resources to interventions that seek to encourage underpaid migrant
workers to report and address underpayment and other forms of exploitation. […] There is a need for a new
specialised forum through which migrant workers can seek to recover unpaid wages. The forum must be
accessible to migrant workers including well-resourced individualised assistance to calculate wage claims,
along with legal advice and representation. It must be able to deliver remedies swiftly, with presumptions
in the worker’s favour in the absence of payslips or in the context of widespread patterns of fraudulent
recording of wages or hours worked.”6
What is needed is thus a functioning and well-coordinated justice mechanism that supports migrant workers in
redressing the injustices and wage thefts they have experienced.

Shaping a new justice mechanism
Justice mechanisms can be either formal or informal. Formal mechanisms are created by governments (e.g. through
laws), operate as part of them and are funded by them. They can also be established through treaties among states
and operate under the control of international organisations. Formal mechanisms generally work through official
courts (e.g. litigation), but non-court mechanisms also exist (e.g. arbitration, mediation). They can be referred to as
non-justice mechanisms. Informal justice mechanisms operate outside of the formal authority of the state, instead
gaining power from community structures, and may be referred to as traditional or customary mechanisms, among
others. Both formal and informal justice mechanisms respond to the fundamental principle of access to justice, which
enables people to exercise their rights. Access to justice is enshrined in rule of law but is also interlinked with the
protection and promotion of human rights and democracy as well as an essential component for human and societal
development.7 Achieving justice for all is also a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). SDG no. 16, in fact, aims at
“promoting the rule of law, strengthening institutions and increasing access to justice” 8 in an overarching effort to
challenge lack of adequate rights protection and to remove barriers to opportunities and economic development,
among others. Despite increased global efforts to achieve change, however, barriers to expedited justice mechanisms
and failure to redress violations are still widespread across the globe.
Access to justice is guaranteed through multiple components that include: first and foremost a legal framework and
ad-hoc policies in line with international human rights standards, against which to uphold peoples’ rights; secondly,
the development of “accessible, affordable, timely, effective, efficient, impartial, free of corruption, that are trusted
6

Farbenblum B. and Berg L., Wage Theft In Silence (2018) Migrant Workers Justice Initiative
<https://static1.squarespace.com/static/593f6d9fe4fcb5c458624206/t/5bd26f620d9297e70989b27a/1540517748798/Wage+th
eft+in+Silence+Report.pdf>
7 See for example: UNGA, Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and
International Levels (30 November 2012) UN Doc A/RES/67/1
8
UN,
Sustainable
Development
Goal
16
(Sustainable
Development
Goals
Knowledge
Platform)
<https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg16>

2

Select target paragraph3