Alex Hawke MP: New penalties proposed to protect migrant workers from coercive exploitation

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The Government has released for public consultation an exposure draft of the Migration Amendment (Protecting Migrant Workers) Bill 2021 that proposes new criminal offences and civil penalties to further protect migrant workers from exploitation. 

Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alex Hawke, said the proposed Bill sends a strong message from the Australian Government that wage underpayment and other exploitative practices against migrant workers are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“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 holidaymakers, students and skilled migrants,” Mr Hawke said.

Building on initiatives previously implemented in response to recommendations from the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, the Bill proposes a number of new offences designed to prevent an employer from using migration laws to coerce migrant workers.

New penalties have been proposed to protect migrant workers from coercive exploitation.

It will be an offence to coerce or exert undue influence or pressure on migrant workers to accept work arrangements that breach work-related visa conditions. It will also be an offence for a person to coerce, influence or pressure migrant workers to accept work arrangements to satisfy a work-related visa requirement, or to avoid an adverse effect on their immigration status.

The Bill will also introduce other important measures to enhance protections for migrant workers under the Migration Act 1958, including:

  • prohibiting certain employers who have breached specified provisions in theMigration Act or the Fair Work Act 2009 from employing additional non-citizen employees for a specified period;
  • establishing new compliance tools for the Australian Border Force to work with employers, labour hire companies and other parties to improve compliance with Migration Act requirements relating to employing migrant workers;
  • requiring the use of the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) system to ensure employers, labour hire companies and others involved in referring non-citizens for work are conducting appropriate checks of prospective employees’ immigration status and work-related visa conditions; and
  • increasing civil penalties for breaches of work-related provisions in the Migration Act.

“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.

In addition to the measures proposed in the Bill, the Government has also made regulatory changes to enhance the safety and welfare of working holiday makers in Australia, and discourage them from working for employers with a track record of misconduct.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Alex Hawke MP.

The Migration Amendment (Subclass 417 and 462 Visas) Regulations 2021 will exclude work for specified businesses counting towards eligibility for a second or third working holiday maker visa.

Considerations for listing a specified business in the legislative instrument would include, for example, any relevant convictions, in particular those relating to safety and welfare of employees.

The exclusion would only apply to work undertaken by working holiday makers after the business is listed in the legislative instrument.

The Department of Home Affairs will implement enhanced communication channels to allow visa holders to easily check the status of their employer.

A specified business will be provided a right of reply, before listing them in a legislative instrument.

Consultation on the exposure draft of the Migration Amendment (Protecting Migrant Workers) Bill 2021 will close on Friday, 16 August 2021. For further information on making a submission visit the Department of Home Affairs website.

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