Over the past year, we have been collaborating with data.org to support the Australian Awardee of the global Inclusive Growth and Recovery Challenge. The University of Melbourne’s interdisciplinary team has been selected for their project ‘A Fair Day’s Work’ which seeks to prevent wage theft by empowering workers, enabling effective regulators, and supporting more targeted and data–informed policies on youth unemployment. This project will be one of nine global awardees connected and supported by data.org to demonstrate the potential of data science to drive social impact.  

Our collaboration with data.org is part of a wider partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation and the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth aiming to advance our shared ambitions to connect data scientists and change–makers.  This collaboration helps for purpose organisations to integrate data science insights into their day-to-day programs and build platforms for collaborative learning. By participating in this global collaboration, we can support Australian social change makers to be at the forefront of global data science innovations and leadership.  

Our colleagues, Dr. Jeni Whalan and Dr. Kate Harrison-Brennan have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has further revealed the vulnerability of certain Australians and their communities. Throughout 2020, The Paul Ramsay Foundation focused on people and communities who are most likely to be left behind during the crisis and supported partners working to prevent COVID-19 related factors which can compound disadvantage further. Research has shown that young people, especially those transitioning to their first job, are likely to be more adversely affected by the economic recession than other age-groups. From previous recessions, this is predicted to cause long-term permanent “scarring” with warnings that there will be a “Class of Corona” emerging from negative impacts including job and wage loss, impacts expected to last for a decade or more.

The pandemic has also increased the risk of wage theft, underscoring the project’s important role in supporting fair pay and helping break cycles of disadvantage. The recession caused by COVID-19 increases the risk that employers may try to address shortfalls in revenue by either intentionally or accidentally making changes to employee conditions that deny young workers their entitlements in breach of the law. The culture of wage theft is widely documented by industries where young people make up the majority of employees.  

Research has shown that while experiences of wage theft – which is estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars each year – have grown, the most vulnerable workers are the least likely to act due to fear of losing their jobs. A report by the Young Workers Centre in 2017 found that one in five young workers were not paid the minimum wage and around 40 per cent of young workers have worked off the books. However, wage theft is difficult for regulators, unions and individuals to detect and thus data is scarce and enforce of employment laws difficult.

“A Fair Day’ Project co-lead ‘s Professor John Howe and Timothy Kariotis said the project’s multi-pronged approach will support young people at risk of wage theft while also providing critical data for regulators, policymakers and businesses to drive system change. The project will draw upon cross-disciplinary expertise in labor law and regulation, digital design, information science, UX design, data analysis, and data ethics to design/develop three interlinked components: the Fair Day’s Work portal, a Wage Theft Database, and finally, a Wage Theft Prediction Tool.

To learn more about the data.org challenge, please visit our recorded launch event : Data Drives Impact Event – data.org

You can read coverage in The Sydney Morning Herald of this important partnership.

Article written by: Dr Alex Fischer, Lead Analyst and Dr Jenny Tran, Lead Analyst