Push to end workplace abuse as migrant workers return to Australia

Helena BurkeNCA NewsWire
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The Immigration Minister and employee representatives have called for an end to the exploitation and abuse of Australia’s migrant workers.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, many of Australia’s two million temporary migrants workers endured workplace conditions involving wage theft, forced labour, discrimination, intimidation, abuse, and incessant threats of visa cancellations.

“Workers suffer repetitive strain and other injuries due to the excessively fast pace of work,” the Western Australian Council of Social Services (WA COSS) wrote in a submission to a parliamentary committee on Monday.

“They are also subject to intimidation, racial discrimination and sexual harassment.”

Many migrant farm workers are also paid far less than the legal minimum wage, according to the United Workers Union.

Now that Australia is attempting to reintegrate seasonal migration work in a post-pandemic world, pressure is mounting to ensure employers do not return to previous patterns of workplace abuse.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced on Monday a new set of proposed criminal offences and civil penalties to protect migrant workers from exploitation.

“This legislation is timely as we work on economic recovery from Covid-19. We want to ensure Australia maintains a strong reputation as a destination of choice for working holiday-makers, students and skilled migrants,” Mr Hawke said.

Under the Migration Amendment (Protecting Migrant Workers) Bill 2021, it will be an offence to coerce or pressure a migrant worker to accept employment arrangements that breach work-related visa conditions.

It will also be an offence to coerce, influence or pressure migrant workers to accept work arrangements to avoid any adverse effects on their immigration status.

Employers who breach any provisions in the Migration Act or the Fair Work Act 2009 will also be banned from employing additional migrant workers for a specified time period.

“We know the majority of Australian businesses and employers do the right thing, but there are still a small number of unscrupulous employers who find ways to exploit migrants,” Mr Hawke said.

But according to WA COSS, farmers and suppliers who do the right thing are often punished by supermarkets seeking the lowest prices no matter the consequence.

“Farmers and suppliers who uphold legal labour and pay standards are being dropped by the supermarkets who are instead granting contracts to cheaper suppliers using grossly exploited labour,” the WA COSS submission continued.

The organisation emphasised that the exploitation of foreign workers was a widespread and systemic issue that must be addressed through multiple channels as migrant workers re-enter the country.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than two million temporary migrants accounted for approximately 10 per cent of the Australian workforce in key sectors such as agriculture, hospitality, construction, and healthcare.

Originally published as Push to end workplace abuse as migrant workers return to Australia

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