Rogue employers who illegally exploit vulnerable migrant workers illegally should feel the full force of tougher penalties to crack down on these rorts.

Unions have welcomed the Government’s plans to get tough on employers, following a new report into the impact of illegal work in Australia.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the recommendations of the Howells Report for a regime of tough civil penalties for employers who use illegal migrant labour should be adopted by Government.

“The only winners from illegal work are unscrupulous employers, but current laws are clearly not working as a deterrent.

 “Illegal migrant workers take away jobs from Australians, undermine wages and conditions of legal workers, and undermine workplace health and safety standards,” Ms Kearney said.

“But illegal work also exploits vulnerable migrant workers who have moved to Australia, but cannot exercise their rights.

“We know these workers are more susceptible to mistreatment and are less likely to raise concerns about ill-treatment and underpayment because of their precarious status.

“In the worst cases, illegal work can involve labour trafficking, forced labour and even slavery.”

Ms Kearney said unions were pleased the Government had agreed to take action in the wake of the Howells report, including through a plan to fine employers who hire illegal workers $10,000.

“The Howells report unsurprisingly found that current employer sanctions have been ‘wholly ineffective’ as a deterrent, so this new law will mean employers who do the wrong thing will be able to be properly dealt with,” she said.

“Unions have been calling for changes for some time and the Labor Government must take action to address the problem, unlike the Howard Government, which refused to tackle it when it was presented with evidence through its own review.

“It’s time the manufactured hysteria around the imaginary threats from a small number of boat people was set aside and all political parties committed to dealing with the real migration issue illegal work. These are people who come here by plane, without a working visa, and are used by employers to cut costs and avoid obligations, including the payment of tax.”

However, Ms Kearney said cracking down on illegal migrant work was only one part of the solution to Australia’s skills problems, and unions would continue to lobby the Government to develop better policies to encourage use of Australian labour over and above migrant workers, particularly in the areas of construction, agriculture and hospitality.