The ACTU welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the Migration Amendment (Protecting Migrant Workers) bill 2021 (hereafter, ‘the Bill’), following on from our submission to the Exposure Draft of the Bill. Australia has an underclass of exploited temporary visa holders, and a temporary skilled visa system that is driven by the interests of business rather than the interests of the Australian people. Fundamental transformation of Australia’s visa system is required to end the exploitation of temporary visa holders, prioritise permanent migration, and ensure local workers have opportunities.

Unfortunately, this Bill falls short. Despite some minor improvements to this Bill from the Exposure Draft, we remain of the view that this Bill is not sufficient to protect temporary migrant workers from exploitation, and may have some adverse, unintended consequences. This Bill does not address the systemic factors that lead to migrant worker exploitation and is fundamentally flawed: it relies on vulnerable migrant workers coming forward to report exploitation and cooperate in an investigation, without providing them with any incentive or protection to do so. This could expose migrant workers to adverse immigration consequences, including the cancellation of their visa, or not meeting the requirements for visa renewal along with facing victimisation by their employers. Because this Bill does nothing to address the barriers to reporting abuse that migrant workers face, it is unlikely to have any impact on reducing exploitation.

The Australian Union movement believes that much stronger action is needed to protect migrant workers, particularly as the Morrison Government is currently rolling out a new visa scheme – the Agriculture Visa – which will expose even more vulnerable workers to exploitation. This Bill must be strengthened and coupled with comprehensive reforms to Australia’s migration and workplace laws aimed at preventing and addressing migrant worker exploitation.

This submission explores the weaknesses of the Bill, proposes some recommendations for reforming the Bill, and canvasses recommendations for broader reforms that the Australian Government must implement to stop migrant worker exploitation.