In a move to safeguard the rights of vulnerable workers and combat exploitation in the labor market, the Albanese Labor Government has successfully passed the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023 with unanimous support in Parliament.
The legislation marks a significant step forward in holding employers accountable for mistreatment and exploitation of workers, particularly those on temporary visas.
Effective from July 1, the new law imposes harsh penalties, including prison time and tripled fines, on employers found guilty of exploiting workers based on their visa status.
Furthermore, employers who engage in such practices will be prohibited from hiring any worker on a temporary visa, reinforcing the government’s commitment to eradicating exploitation in the workplace.
And employers who mistreat workers will be banned from hiring any worker on a temporary visa.
Under our new laws, it doesn’t matter if that company is a multinational giant or a hundred years old – if exploitation is happening, they’ll get a knock at the door. (3/4)
— Andrew Giles MP (@andrewjgiles) February 7, 2024
Minister Giles, speaking on behalf of the government, emphasised the inclusive nature of the legislation, stating, “Just like our plan to give every Australian taxpayer a tax cut, the Government’s legislation will benefit all workers across the economy – visa holders and Australians alike.” This sentiment underscores the government’s dedication to ensuring the safety and well-being of all workers, regardless of their visa status.
The passage of the bill signifies a crucial victory for labour rights advocates. Minister Giles praised the courage of those who have come forward to share their experiences of exploitation, emphasising that their voices were instrumental in driving forward this much-needed reform.
Local businesses that uphold fair labour practices will also benefit from the reform, as it levels the playing field by cracking down on unscrupulous competitors who undercut prices by underpaying workers. Minister Giles reiterated the government’s stance, stating, “Under our new laws, it doesn’t matter if that company is a multinational giant or a hundred years old – if exploitation is happening, they’ll get a knock at the door.”
The Labor government had said earlier that the crisis of exploitation in Australia was affecting both Australian workers and those on temporary visas.
In a speech delivered at Solidarity Hall, Victorian Trades Hall last year, Andrew Giles highlighted the prevalence of wage theft, exploitation, and fear-induced silence among workers, exacerbated by loopholes in the visa system and lax enforcement.
A recent report by Migrant Workers Centre shed light on the concerning realities faced by temporary visa holders. Among the most alarming revelations is that a substantial majority, 65%, have experienced wage theft during their employment. Moreover, one in four of these individuals reported additional forms of labour exploitation, painting a grim picture of the challenges faced by this demographic. Particularly worrying is the correlation between temporary visa status and workplace exploitation, with 91% of those who endured wage theft arriving on visas lacking a pathway to permanent residency.
The impact of these conditions on the mental health of temporary visa holders is evident, with individuals on employer-sponsored visas displaying notably high levels of stress. This suggests a deep-rooted issue within the visa system, where the lack of stability and uncertainty about future residency exacerbate the already stressful experience of work.
Workers unions have welcomed the legislative changes. ACTU President Michele O’Neil said, “The exploitation of workers in Australia on temporary visas hurts all workers. It exposes the impact of a migration system that had shifted away from permanent migration towards a guest worker approach where employers control workers’ passports and paycheques. These changes are important as we cannot have a country where workers fear reporting workplace exploitation because they fear losing their ability to stay in the country. This new law, and the actions outlined in the Government’s Migration Strategy released at the end of last year, are critical to ensuring all workers in Australia are treated fairly.”