Unions have urged the Federal Government to adopt the key recommendations of a review of the 457 visa program and end the exploitation of temporary migrant workers.

The 457 visa system introduced by the Howard Government has become an avenue for employers to find cheap labour from overseas, often resulting in exploitative and unsafe working conditions.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said unions welcomed most of the recommendations in the final report of the Visa Subclass 457 Integrity Review conducted by Barbara Deegan.

In its submission to the review, the ACTU had warned that the program fails to ensure that genuine shortages exist that cannot be filled by Australian workers, and fails to adequately protect the rights of temporary overseas workers.

Unions have been calling for the imposition of more stringent and precise legal obligations on employers of workers on 457 visas.

Ms Burrow said the abolition of the minimum salary level in favour of market rates of pay would reduce the incentive to use temporary migrants as a cheap labour source.

“Unions have always been sceptical about whether the 457 visa program has been used to fill genuine gaps in the workforce, or simply to provide a cheap source of labour to employers,” Ms Burrow said.

“Paying migrant workers the market rate will remove that incentive, and strengthen the integrity of the system.”

Also important was the recommendation that the rights of 457 visa holders who are involved in safety complaints are properly protected and allowed to remain in Australia until a prosecution is completed.

“There have been horrific cases of workers being exploited under the 457 visa system,” Ms Burrow said.

“Often, temporary migrant workers have little English, and do not understand their workplace rights.

“This has led to employers taking advantage of them, forcing them to work excessive hours under poor conditions, and sometimes in dangerous workplaces.

“There have been cases of terrible injuries and even deaths. But because their status in Australia is dependent on their employer, migrant workers have been afraid to speak up.”