Lifting the lid on working holiday scams

In Attractions, Australian Cultural Exports, Government, Harmonisation, National Headlines, Queensland, Victoria

Authorities investigate The Global Work and Travel Co accused of rip-offs by former staff and customers

Queensland authorities are investigating 22 complaints about a Gold Coast company that sends young people around the world on working holidays.

Separately, in a joint investigation between the ABC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), dozens of former customers and employees of The Global Work and Travel Co have come forward claiming the company preys on vulnerable consumers and gives false guarantees about jobs.

The Global Work and Travel Co offers to take care of job opportunities, flights, transfers, visa assistance and insurance for travellers to work in five countries on 10 different programs.

However, travellers said the company uses high-pressure sales tactics, while former employees have lifted the lid on huge flight mark-ups.

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 Glenn Anderson, 27, paid The Global Work and Travel Co more than $5,000 for flights and a job to embark on a working holiday in Canada.

Mr Anderson said the company pushed him to travel to Vancouver prior to Christmas 2012, but when he arrived there was no job for him there.

He was stranded and fast-running out of money.

“When I first contacted Global on the phone they told me, ‘it’s a great deal, you get a guaranteed job’. I came over here, was left in the hostel [in Vancouver] over Christmas with no contact and no job prospect at all,” he said.

“I didn’t get a job until late January which I ended up finding myself.

“On the phone, when you are talking to them, they do use fairly high-pressure sales tactics.

“They are getting right at you to pay now and if you don’t pay now you are not going to get a job anytime soon.”

Mr Anderson’s parents, Rex and Maree Anderson, tried to support him the best they could from their home on the New South Wales Central Coast.

“His dream was going up in smoke, you know, he waited so long to do this – the only place he wanted to go in the world was Canada,” Mrs Anderson said.

“He thought he had dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s to make it the working holiday of a lifetime and it was all coming apart at the seams for him, and as a mum, I guess my heart was breaking.

Mr Anderson and his parents complained to The Global Work and Travel Co and eventually received a partial refund, but the family are speaking out to warn other young people of having a similar experience.

Student sent to volunteer program which no longer existed

The ABC and CBC have been in contact with 27 young travellers who believe they were also misled and overcharged by the working holiday company.

Psychology PhD student Stacey Kosmerly, from Ottawa in Canada, lined up a volunteer placement along with a friend, in Sri Lanka through The Global Work and Travel Co in July 2014.

The 24-year-old paid the company almost $7,000 Canadian ($6,860), but when she arrived in Sri Lanka to work at a shelter for sexually abused women and girls, she was told the shelter had been closed for a year.

“The only reason we chose such a far destination was for this program, so we were really disappointed and stressed because the program didn’t even exist,” Ms Kosmerly said.

“We’d spent a fortune and saved a lot of money and we got a lot of donations to pay for this trip, and we didn’t want to let everyone down who had sponsored us on this journey.”

Ms Kosmerly said she and her friend scrambled to find an alternative volunteer placement, without any help from the company.

“I would definitely describe it as false advertising because they really promoted this program of the girls shelter and then it didn’t even exist,” she said.

“And when we confronted them about this when we got back they said ‘you still got a volunteer experience so what’s the big deal?'”

The company has now said it is willing to offer a partial refund and is liaising with Ms Kosmerly and her friend to organise it.

“We can assure you that we are as upset as our customers are at the miscommunication between the supplier in Sri Lanka and our company,” the company told the ABC.

“We have been investigating the situation but have had difficulty getting information back from the supplier in the region.

“We agree that a portion of the two women’s fees should be reimbursed.”

‘They made it feel like it was our fault’

British backpacker Juliet Jackson and Canadian Hayley Patterson both have their own horror stories of their experience with The Global Work and Travel Co.

In January 2014 they arrived on the Gold Coast for an orientation session, part of a $1,500 package supposed to help them to secure work.

They said the company then told them there were jobs at a sushi bar in Melbourne, but they had to pay their own way there.

“So we took the bus there trying to get there as quickly as quick as we could,” Ms Patterson said.

The pair arrived in Melbourne two days later.

“When we got there we went to the sushi bar… and he said he had already hired a month ago, so we called [Global] saying he had already hired and they told us we were lying and that we didn’t get there in time and that was our job opportunity, so they didn’t have to pay for our accommodation anymore,” Ms Jackson said.

“They made it feel like it was your fault and that you didn’t get there quickly enough and they would say it did count as a job opportunity.”

In an email to the women, Global said the sushi bar was the company’s “client”, but the restaurant’s manager has told the ABC he has never heard of the company and only advertises jobs on websites such as Seek and Gumtree.

The pair then checked their contracts with Global and saw in the fine print that a guaranteed “job opportunity” might just mean an “interview” and not an actual job.

“I do feel tricked by them because it’s just the slight differences in the way they describe things,” Ms Jackson said.

“They tell you you’ll get a job and that you’ll have interviews before you even leave, but actually it’s a ‘job opportunity’ and that’s a really vague word.”

After three months in Australia the young women ran out of money and were forced to return to their home countries.

They complained to The Global Work and Travel Co and received partial refunds.

The company has told the ABC it never sent anyone to an employer they do not work with, and every employer is vetted.

Company denies misleading travellers

The Global Work and Travel Co has declined repeated requests for an interview, but sent the ABC statements denying that it misleads young travellers.

“We would like to make it clear that we do not provide job ‘offers’ for our ‘Working Holiday’ programs,” the company said.

“We do not, and cannot, control an employer’s hiring decision. Nor can we control a candidate’s attendance and performance at an interview.”

Global said it has many happy customers all over the world.

“Almost 10,000 travellers joined a program last year from the five main markets we operate in, being Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, and UK,” the statement said.

“We receive on average [of] only two to five complaints per week, globally.

“This represents a less than 2.5 per cent recorded complaint rate, and otherwise a 97.5 – 99 per cent customer satisfaction rate.”

Former employees also come forward

The ABC has spoken to 23 former employees about their time working at the company.

Former Global Work and Travel Co travel consultant Amanda Stewart said teenagers would often be heading overseas with no job to go to.

“I know at one stage we’d spoken to [Global’s Canadian office] and there was 60 people that they had that were going within the next couple of weeks and they had no jobs for any of them – that was in a week’s period,” Ms Stewart said.

“There was one client in particular that was barely, wasn’t even 18 at the time, they signed him up and you can’t even get a visa until you’re 18.

“He had no job, no-one seemed to be caring about him, he was going off in a couple of days without anything, and no-one was speaking to him.

“I was told ‘it’s none of your business, don’t worry about it’.”

Former sales consultant Louisa Canning said she was told to tell potential customers over the phone that they would be guaranteed a job.

“We’d led them into thinking they were guaranteed a job whereas in the contract there is a little part saying, ‘oh no, we’ll get you a few interviews’,” Ms Canning said.

“I didn’t like doing it but at the same time if you didn’t make any sales that week, you wouldn’t even get paid for the Saturday they made you do, so you had to kind of be pushy, even if you didn’t want to.

“You’d hear sad stories as to why people can’t afford it and things like that and you just end up feeling really bad and you don’t want to push them anymore, but you just get told you’re going to get fired if you don’t get enough sales.”

Ms Canning said she believes Global gives customers a false sense of security.

We’d led [customers] into thinking they were guaranteed a job whereas in the contract there is a little part saying ‘oh no, we’ll get you a few interviews’

Louisa Canning

“A lot of young people are scared to go overseas for the first time, so they rely on things like that to help them and get them there,” she said.

Karine Tomlinson worked as a travel agent at The Global Work and Travel Co in 2012.

“So what we had to do was find the cheapest flights, the minimum would be a mark up of $700, so you’d have a mark up of $700, $800, $900, $1,000, $1,100,” Ms Tomlinson said.

“I’ve been in the travel industry for 20 years and I’ve never ever come across a company that marks up by so much.

“It’s outrageous and really they are exploiting young people.”

Mr Anderson’s father said he believed his son was overcharged for his airfare.

“The flight was $1,800 one-way and when we made inquiries with China Airlines the cost of that flight if he’d booked it himself was $750 plus tax, roughly $1,000,” he said.

Company denies ‘outrageous’ price mark-ups

The Global Work and Travel Co denies flight prices are unfairly marked up.

“Retail margins are based on market rates at the time of sale,” the company told the ABC.

“The Global Work and Travel Co has bulk purchasing power and pricing agreements with airlines and wholesalers, which it uses to provide value-for-money retail prices to its customers.

“The company may in fact lose money on an airfare sale in order to create a package for a customer that fits within the disclosed package price estimates.”

After lengthy correspondence with the ABC, the company maintains it has not been given the specific details of cases to respond to, and so would not agree to an interview.

“The Global Work and Travel Co is an Australian-headquartered global business,” a company email said.

“With almost 10,000 travellers joining one of our programs last year, we pride ourselves on our continued very high customer satisfaction rate.

“The Global Work and Travel Co was provided with an outline of issues or allegations by emails from the ABC on 13 and 15 October 2014.

“We have been seeking, but have not been provided with, further details that we believe are required in order to provide an official response.

“We did however provide preliminary responses to those matters in writing on 14 and 16 October 2014.

“The Global Work and Travel Co encourages direct customer feedback (positive or negative) so as to improve our services and maintain our position as a global leader in working holiday and gap year programs.”

Investigation by Queensland authorities

In Queensland, where The Global Work and Travel Co is based, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has received 22 complaints about the company.

The department says because the complaints are about the operations of an employment agent, they have been referred to a different department for further consideration.

“During the course of the investigation, it was established that the travel services offered by Global Work and Travel actually form part of an employment arrangement, rather than being travel services in their own right,” a spokesperson said.

“As such, representations about the travel aspect of the employment arrangement do not constitute a breach of the ACL (Australian Consumer Law).

“The operations of employment agents are regulated under the Private Employment Agents Act 2005, which is administered by Private Sector Industrial Relations (PSIR) (part of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General).

“The OFT has now exercised its power to refer all relevant complaints (22 in total), and information obtained during the course of the investigation, to PSIR.”

PSIR has confirmed to the ABC that it will commence an investigation.

“Private Sector Industrial Relations (PSIR) received 22 complaints… in relation to Global Work and Travel and will commence an investigation,” a department spokeswoman has told the ABC.

The spokesperson said the operations of employment agents in Queensland are regulated by the Private Employment Agents Act 2005 and the Private Employment Agents (Code of Conduct) Regulation 2005.

These cover issues such as:

  • General responsibilities of agents including responsibilities to work seekers
  • Fee charging restrictions that prohibit agents seeking or accepting payment from a work seeker as a condition of finding work within or outside Australia
  • Records to be kept by an agent including registers and correspondence
  • Prohibitions against an agent publishing false information or making false statements
  • The requirement of an agent to give an information statement to a work seeker
  • Particular rules of conduct for dealings with models and performers

“PSIR inspectors have the authority to investigate complaints regarding these matters and, if necessary, take action to recover indiscriminate fees being levied for the procurement of employment by private employment agents.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also been investigating The Global Work and Travel Co and has an ongoing court case against Global in the Brisbane Federal Court about the alleged underpayment of some employees.

The case will return to court for a hearing in February next year.

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