ACTU Submission to the Inquiry into the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017

11 April 2017 The exploitation of workers especially temporary visa holders has become a business model for some employers. Unfortunately, examples of exploitation are no longer rare. Rather, these practices have become normalized and are particularly prevalent in some sectors. A good example was the widespread exploitation of international student visa holders working in 7-Eleven stores across Australia. We need to examine the structural factors that create the vulnerability of temporary visa workers and predispose them to exploitation. The coercion of temporary visa workers into breaching their visa conditions was particularly pertinent to the plight of international student visa workers in the7-Eleven scandal and while the ACTU welcomes many of the measures in this Bill we believe there is much more that can be done to address systemic exploitation of temporary work visa holders. Businesses like 7 Eleven, Caltex, Pizza Hut and others must take responsibility for their flawed business models. Similarly, the government must ensure rampant exploitation of workers through the underpayment of wages cannot be normal practice for some firms any longer. What is clear from these recent wage scandals is that business size is not a guarantee against widespread breaches of workplace laws, neither is commercial success, nor is being a common household name present on many high streets. Temporary Migrant workers - estimated to make up 10% of the workforce - are particularly susceptible to exploitation by employers. Most temporary migrant workers are present in poorly regulated industries; agriculture, meat processing, hospitality and accommodation have a particular high concentration. The ACTU fears that exploitation has become systemic in many sectors and noncompliance of workplace laws has been long standing. While this Bill, in many ways, is recognition of the scale of the problem, the provisions of the Bill do not go far enough if the Government is to truly address the systemic exploitation of temporary work visa holders. Below we explain where the Governments proposals are lacking and can be improved upon. Unfortunately the prevalence of wage theft in some recent examples of exploitation of vulnerable workers is a clear sign that this has been the prevailing business model. A 7 Eleven internal survey taken in July and August 2015 indicated that 69% of franchisees had payroll issues including fraud (the Four Corners episode quoted a 7 Eleven Australia insider as saying that all franchisees were involved in wage fraud). As former Australian Consumer Commission observed in relation to the 7-Eleven ‘the business model will only work for the franchisee if they underpay or overwork employees’