TRUE OPINION: Wage theft is not just relegated to ‘celebrity chefs’ in the hospitality industry with the media perhaps needing to look closer at similar issues within its own backyard, writes new True Crime News Weekly contributor Oscar Kaspi-Crutchett.
I wasn’t even sixteen-years-old when I had my first taste of freelance worker exploitation in the gay and lesbian media scene.
I was a hardworking, eager-to-please and passionate newbie to the world of freelance writing who jumped at the opportunity to have their work published and read.
I wrote first for the small online news and culture magazine HeapsGay before moving to the larger and more well-known but now defunt SameSame website.
I wrote articles for both online publications.
I was fresh out of the closet and writing about issues directly relevant and personal to my own life, touching on Marriage Equality, Safe Schools, LGBTIQ scholarships and life for queer Israelis.
It wasn’t easy work, not for someone in my age or position, but I tried my hardest to honour the work I did and produce honest, engaging content.
My articles varied in success.
One of them, published at the height of the debate on whether or not to have a plebiscite on marriage equality which implored the Government to extend franchise to sixteen and seventeen-year-olds scored thousands of hits and was shared by hundreds of people.
I worked hard and produced results.
But, not a single invoice I sent in for my work was ever paid. Yes, you read that correctly. Not one single time.
No matter how hard I worked, how much traffic I helped bring to their websites or how personal my pieces were, I was never paid for my work.
It wasn’t that I was being underpaid what the company and I agreed, or that I was being paid late. I just wasn’t being paid at all.
First, there were delays and excuses and I was urged to wait another week, or another month but eventually my inbox dried up and I stopped receiving any replies at all.
That was how my time at SameSame ended: with no reply, no warning and hundreds of dollars I never received. As you could imagine, it’s not a pleasant feeling being the victim of a con.
We hear stories about wage theft or freelancers getting ripped off every day, but we never expect it to happen to us until it does.
I’d like us to think what would happen if I stole hundreds of dollars from a media conglomerate. There would be a report, an investigation, a charge and I’d be made to pay all of it back and then some. I’d then likely be blacklisted from the entire industry for a long, long time. But when the conglomerate steals from the worker, there are no consequences whatsoever. Or a small slap on the wrist. Just look at ‘celebrity chef’ George Calombaris.
With time, I’ve learned that I was by no means the only one who had this experience with LGBTIQ media. A pyramid of wage theft, threats, mismanagement and malpractice has been carved and is a great shame to our community.
These very same themes have just this month once again popped up, after the forced demise of the sham LGBTI Media Awards. These glitzy fraud awards which required nominees to pay close to $1,000 just to attend were dreamed up by LOTL publisher, Silke Bader, who herself in recent times has been accused of wage theft and even defrauding her own business partner.
Over the past couple of years, True Crime News Weekly has exposed just how deep this rort runs across LGBTIQ media in Australia, with hundreds, if not thousands, of LGBTIQ workers losing out on wages and superannuation over the past decade and more.
Incidents like this are all too common in freelance work, but it’s particularly stinging when it comes from so-called leaders of your own community.
As an LGBTIQ writer and activist, writing during the nation’s loudest debate on an LGBTIQ issue in history, I didn’t expect to be used like this by folk who were supposed to be on my side. And yet here we are.
It leaves a decidedly bitter taste in the mouth as well as much ensuing confusion over how much community exists in so-called community media.
Every business has its issues but the nature of these incidents of exploitation are that they were systematic. Wage theft wasn’t used to supplement revenue, it kept Evo Media afloat.
LGBTIQ workers have enough on their plate to worry about not being paid for fair, honest work. It is a shame that this misconduct was my first experience in the freelance industry and I can only hope LGBTIQ media eventually goes back to serving, and not exploiting, its community.
Feature Image (original): Benson Kua