Exploiting workers is unlawful: Senator

EXPLOITATION of workers in Australia, whether domestic or foreign, is unlawful.

Any employer engaging or paying workers below those conditions is breaking the law.

Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, said that all 417 visa holders must be employed in line with Australian pay, conditions and workplace entitlements under the Fair Work Act or relevant state legislation.

"Any allegations of underpayment should be referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). Labour-hire companies, like all Australian employers, are also legally required to treat and remunerate all of their employees, including foreign visa holders, with work rights in accordance with Australian workplace law. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is currently investigating the employment of 417 visa holders by On-Hire Labour firms," Minister Cash said.


"The allegations made in last night's Four Corners program are concerning. While the majority of employers do the right thing and treat their workers with the decency they deserve, we have a responsibility to ensure we are doing all we can to address the instances where worker's rights are being compromised which is why the Government continues to undertake targeted compliance activities across several departments."

"Both the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the FWO are active in ongoing compliance campaigns to ensure that 417 visa holders are being paid in accordance with Australian pay and conditions."

Minister Cash said the FWO currently has an Overseas Workers' Team operating across Australia. The Fair Work Ombudsman has dealt with over 6000 requests for assistance from visa-holders, recovered more than $4 million in outstanding wages and entitlements, provided advice and assistance to over 5000 overseas workers and visa-holders who have called the Fair Work Infoline and commenced more than 50 legal actions in relation to visa holders.

"In addition, the FWO is currently running a three-year, comprehensive program called the Harvest Trail, to ensure seasonal workers (many of them overseas workers and international backpackers on the 417 working holiday visa) receive their minimum lawful entitlements," Minister Cash said.

"The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will continue to work closely with the FWO to ensure workers are aware of their rights and are provided with the workplace entitlements and protections that they are entitled to."

"The Government recently announced an important integrity reform to the Working Holiday Visa program, amending volunteer work arrangements and requiring payslips be provided as evidence of work in Australia to obtain a second Working Holiday Visa. This is a significant integrity measure that will reduce the possibility of exploitation and offer better protections for foreign visa holders. "

"The Working Holiday Visa program is an important cultural exchange program that has provided a unique travelling experience for thousands of migrants, as well as Australians. It is essential that the program continues and public confidence in the system is maintained."

The government actively encourages overseas workers who have concerns that their workplace
Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600 Telephone (02) 6277 7610 Fax (02) 6273 7093
rights are being compromised to contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 131 394 or the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on 131 881.

The FWO has an interpreter service on 13 14 50.

The FWO website has materials translated into 27 different languages including fact sheets for overseas workers at www.fairwork.gov.au.

The comments follow a damning report on ABC program Four Corners which featured Bundaberg backpackers. 

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