There are currently more than 1.8 million temporary visa holders in Australia, including New Zealanders, and up to 1.3 million of these visa holders have work rights. This equates to around 10% of the total Australian labour force of over 12.4 million.
Australian unions have had long-standing and well-documented concerns with the operation of the temporary 457 visa program, but it is clear to us that the problems extend to a range of other temporary visa types where overseas workers can find themselves in vulnerable situations.
At a time when unemployment remain stubbornly above 6% and youth unemployment is more than double that, the Australian community needs to have confidence that such a large and growing temporary work visa program is not having adverse impacts on employment and training opportunities for Australians, particularly young people.
Equally, the community needs to be assured that employers and others are not exploiting vulnerable temporary overseas workers who are unaware of their rights or not in a position where they feel able to exercise those rights.
The evidence is that both Australian and overseas workers are being disadvantaged and exploited on a regular basis under the current policy and program settings that govern temporary work visas.
This has been happening far too often and for far too long for it to be dismissed as a few isolated cases in an otherwise well-functioning program. It is time now for a fundamental reassessment of a skilled migration program that places such emphasis on temporary and employer-sponsored forms of migration without due recognition of the inherent flaws and dangers in doing so.
In this submission, the ACTU proposes a package of recommendations to help address these issues and ensure that the temporary work visa program, to the extent that it is required, operates in the best interests of all workers.