Reforms will combat migrant exploitation

Unions NSW, a long time campaigner against migrant exploitation, has declared the passage of a suite of reforms through the Senate as a massive step forward for justice and fairness.

The reforms repeal the criminal offence of working in breach of visa conditions, and confirm that workplace protections apply to all workers in Australia, including those who are undocumented.  

There are new offences for employers who use immigration-related threats to coerce migrant workers into exploitation, alongside a new prohibited employer list, banning businesses that have engaged in exploitation from hiring new migrant workers for a period of time.

The laws also impose a new requirement to take evidence of workplace exploitation into account before deciding to cancel a worker’s visa.

Unions NSW has agitated for these reforms since 2017. In that time, it has published original research auditing more than 10,000 foreign language job advertisements to consistently show an overwhelming majority of jobs advertised below minimum wages. A 2022 report found 60% of jobs ads were below minimum wage, despite the post COVID environment of labour shortages and record low migration.

“These reforms are a seismic shift in favour of justice and fairness,” said Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW. “Over the last seven years, dozens of brave but vulnerable migrant workers have told their stories, risking serious retribution to blow the whistle on the worst exploitation. 

“We have heard stories of foreign workers rummaging through bins, being paid rations and enduring sexual and physical assault. Today’s reforms are built on the bravery of those workers and trade unions pay tribute to them.

“Migrant exploitation has been a blight on Australia. Today’s reform brings us a big step towards making the ‘fair go’ closer to reality than rhetoric.

“We congratulate the Labor Government, in particular Minister Burke, Minister O’Neil and Minister Giles, for their commitment to landing these reforms. We look forward to working closely together to stamp out race-based exploitation at work.”