Australia has an underclass of exploited temporary visa holders and a temporary skilled visa system that is currently driven by the interests of business rather than the interests of the Australian people. We need to transform Australia’s visa system by putting Australia’s workers first, ending the exploitation of temporary visa holders and prioritising permanent migration.
The ACTU is pleased to have the opportunity to make a submission on the exposure draft of the Migrant Amendment (Protecting Migrant Workers) Bill 2021. This submission argues that the Bill will not ameliorate the vulnerability of temporary migrants to wage theft and other forms of exploitation and will have some adverse, unintended consequences. Although the Bill appears to increase the protection of temporary migrants in the workplace, its substantive effect in this respect will be negligible.
- The Bill is underpinned by fundamentally incorrect assumption that ‘a small number of employers engage in exploitative behaviours’.
- Exploitation is widespread; There is now a body of evidence to suggest that migrant worker exploitation does not involve a ‘small number of employers’ but in certain occupations and industries is endemic and widespread. It is not being effectively addressed through current regulatory approaches and mechanisms – strengthening these by enhancing existing penalty, compliance and enforcement frameworks is insufficient. A completely new approach is required. There needs to be a wholesale rethink of how to tackle the endemic and systematic exploitation of temporary migrants in the labour market.
- The new offences will be unlikely to be effective as there is no protection for migrant workers in reporting exploitation. The Bill does not improve the inadequate protection given to migrant workers who make a complaint of exploitation to the FWO or to a union.
- Increasing these penalties will have very little deterrent effect if there is almost no prospect of detecting non-compliance with the Fair Work Act or the Migration Act. Temporary migrants have been given no incentive or protection for reporting exploitation in the Bill and in fact, have a strong disincentive to reporting exploitation based on structural barriers related to the regulatory design of their visa.
- We need comprehensive reform of the entire migration system. This Bill is not fit for purpose. Reforms the Government are making elsewhere such as the introduction of the new Agriculture Visa will expand the number of potentially exploited migrant workers and exploitation will increase not decrease due to the Governments approach.