Legislation to stop exploitation of migrant workers
Australia’s Government is working towards ensuring migrant workers are not exploited in Australia, this comes after almost four years since recommendations from the Migrant Workers Taskforce were presented. In the coming weeks, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Giles will introduce legislation into the Parliament – the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023.
This Bill reflects the Government’s principle that approaches to employment and migration will work side by side to address exploitation.
The Fair Work Act and the Migration Act must work together, not pull in opposite directions he stated.
Section 235 of the Migration Act will be repealed which undermines people who report exploitative behaviour. Currently migrant workers are discouraged from reporting exploitation for fear of placing their visas at risk.
Minister Giles said that his government was in the process of implementing each and every recommendation of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce.
“Over the last 10 years our migration system has drifted deeper and deeper into reliance on low-paid temporary migrant workers who we know are routinely exploited, under a government that simultaneously did nothing to prevent this exploitation,” said Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil.
“This indifference stops with our government. We are in consultation on systemic changes to our migration system which will ensure it works in the interests of Australian workers and businesses, and we are also doing the work necessary to ensure that no one who comes to this country is exploited or abused. The fact that this has been happening almost unchecked in our migration system is a reflection on the competency and values of the former government.”
Now legislation will make it a criminal offence to pressure someone to breach their visa conditions. Other reforms will protect migrant workers from losing visas because they were forced to breach working conditions. Those on sponsored visas will be given six months to find new employment.
Prohibition notices will be introduced to stop employers from hiring more people on temporary visas if they have been found to exploit them.
A commitment of $50 million has been given to the Australian Border Force to enforce these new measures.
A Grattan Institute report has shown that migrant workers will 40 percent more likely to be underpaid than others with the same skills and experience in the same jobs. That same report showed that one in six are paid below the national minimum wage. This exploitation doesn’t just hurt the individual worker but drives down wages and worsens conditions for all Australian workers.
“Over the past 25 years, a collection of rules combined with apathy when it comes to enforcement has created deep seated exploitation of workers,” Minister Giles said in an address given at the Victorian Trades Hall.
“And people too terrified to speak out when they are mistreated."
“Every day as Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, and Multicultural Affairs, I hear, see, and read stories of mistreatment and exploitation.”
Minister Giles said that when migrant workers are being underpaid – it hurts us all, driving wages and conditions down for everyone.
“It eats away at the institutions that make Australia a decent society, like our world leading minimum wage,” he said. “And it harms employers who do the right thing."
“It means that too many employers are faced with a difficult choice – whether to pay their workers the lawful amount and sacrifice market share, or join the race to the bottom.”
Recently, the ABF fined Utopia – a bubble tea company with 13 stores in WA and barred them from sponsoring workers for two years. However, this does not prevent them from hiring other workers who hold temporary visas, like international students and backpackers.
Under this new framework, businesses like Utopia would be prohibited from hiring new workers who hold temporary visas for a period of time.
Minister Giles said that In the coming weeks, he would embark on a process of co-design to examine what a workplace justice visa should look like, examining the best approach to a firewall between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Home Affairs.
These processes are administratively complex which is why the Government will do it together, with unions, with civil society, with business, and informed by people who have been exploited.