Federal Government today announced very significant reforms to the migration system supporting workers, ensuring that migrant worker exploitation is no longer a feature of Australia’s migration system and something that’s holding back workplaces.
This will protect workers at risk of exploitation with a package of measures that target employers who seek to exploit temporary visa holders and ensure workers can speak up without fear of reprisal.
One in six recent migrants to Australia is paid less than the minimum wage. This exploitation doesn’t just hurt the individual worker, but effectively drives down wages and worsens conditions for all Australian workers.
Back in 2016, the former government commissioned Professor Allan Fels to look at migrant worker exploitation after shocking revelations of abuse, particularly in respect of 7-Eleven were revealed. After three years that report handed down significant recommendations to the former government, recommendations that were never enacted into law.
Following eight months of consultation, the Albanese Government announced a package of legislative powers, enforcement tools, additional funding and a new approach to help people in exploitative workplaces speak up.
Minister for Home Affairs, Clare O’Neil said “Over the last ten 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.”
“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 of the competency and values of the former government” She added.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, will introduce legislation into Parliament in the coming weeks that will penalise unscrupulous employers.
The new measures will:
- Make it a criminal offence to coerce someone into breaching their visa condition;
- Introduce prohibition notices to stop employers from further hiring people on temporary visas where they have exploited migrants;
- Increase penalties and new compliance tools to deter exploitation; and
- Repeal section 235 of the Migration Act which actively undermines people reporting exploitative behaviour.
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles said, “There is a crisis of exploitation, with up to one in six recent migrants paid less than the minimum wage.”
“When migrant workers are being underpaid – it hurts all of us, driving wages and conditions down for everyone. For a decade, the former Liberal government put the safety of migrant workers on the back burner,”said Minister Giles.
“These reforms will help workers speak up and target those employers who do the wrong thing.”
The Government will also provide $50 million in funding to resource the Australian Border Force for this and other enforcement and compliance activities.
The Albanese Government is also committed to supporting those who are exploited to speak out. The Government will consult with businesses, unions and civil society on whistle-blower protections for temporary visa holders and strengthening the firewall between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Home Affairs.
Minister for Workplace Relations and Employment, Tony Burke said, “Exploiting workers is never acceptable.
“We’re committed to stamping it out wherever it’s happening and protecting all workers working in Australia – regardless of their migration status.”
“The previous government neglected these workers, by failing to act. We’re fixing that.”
Further reforms will also commit to work with stakeholders, the government has been listening to – workers themselves, most importantly, good employers, unions and so many experts – to ensure that they have new visa arrangements in place, to ensure that people who are being exploited at work can report that exploitation without the fear of having their visa cancelled.
“This is a fear that’s hung over the heads of too many workers who have been mistreated at work for too long. It is something that we are committed to bringing to an end and getting right,”said Minister Giles.
“This is a critical element of a wider piece of reform, reforms to the world of work which my friend Minister Burke is undertaking as we speak. Reforms to our migration system under Minister O’Neil to ensure that we work hard to ensure that exploitation is driven out of our migration system.”
“We are a country that’s been built on migration. We need to keep this going and ensure that every Australian and every migrant worker is safe at work so that we have a labour market that works for everyone.”
On the question of international students struggling, as many people are with the cost of living Minister Giles said,
“This is a very complicated area, but, look, obviously anyone coming here to study is principally coming here to study, not to work. We recognise that the drivers of exploitation of migrants are complicated and that’s what this proposal, this series of reforms, is intended to do – firstly, to send a signal that this is not to be tolerated.”
“Secondly to put in place an enforcement regime which deals with many of the concerns that have been articulated by international students and their advocates about some of the drivers of exploitation. But fundamentally we are here to ensure that people who come here on a particular visa are here for the purpose of that visa. For international students, that’s obviously to study.”