Senate Committee Critical of Temporary Foreign Worker Programs

Temporary foreign workers who come to Australia on valid visas provide a valuable contribution to Australia’s workforce. Temporary workers such as backpackers on working holidays often fill the necessary gaps when industries and areas of regional Australia struggle with severe labour shortages. While these visas provide great opportunities for both temporary workers from overseas and also Australian businesses, the programs like anything can be subject to exploitation. The exploitation of temporary foreign workers highlights the importance of people coming to Australia to receive specialised advice from a reputable agent to ensure that they are no subject to any form of exploitation while they are in Australia on a working holiday.

The Australian Governments Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment has been undertaking a comprehensive and detailed review of Australia’s Temporary Worker Visa programs. The review has uncovered evidence that shows significant exploitation of people who enter Australia on Temporary Work Visa’s. The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment highlighted its concerns by bluntly stating that the evidence of temporary worker exploitation uncovered was a “National disgrace”.

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The review by the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment concentrated their investigations on temporary workers who come to Australia under the following visas:

1. The Seasonal Worker Program for Pacific Islanders;
2. Skilled Worker Visas under Visa Subclass 457;
3. Working Holiday Visas under Visa Subclass 417; and
4. Working Holiday Visas under Visa Subclass 462.

As part of their investigations the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment obtained evidence from temporary workers, labour hire organisations, small business and also union officials. The culmination of the review has led to thee Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment making a number of recommendations for current visa schemes to be changed to reduce the opportunity for exploitation.

While the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment have been made in good faith and with the intention of protecting temporary workers while they are in Australia, there are concerns that if the recommendations are implemented there could be a detrimental effect. The implementation of stricter immigration policies so that temporary workers are protected from exploitation can actually have a reverse effect and leave temporary workers vulnerable to even greater exploitation. The recommendations may see temporary dissuaded from reporting exploitation for fear of not being gainfully employed during their working holiday in Australia.

Media Investigations into Visa Exploitation

Recent investigative reporting undertaken by one of Australia’s leading current affairs programs, Four Corners uncovered wide spread exploitation of temporary workers by labour recruitment organisations. The exploitation this media investigation uncovered was of such seriousness that industry leaders within the Agricultural sector and politicians made commitments to stamp out rogue labour hire organisations involved in recruiting temporary workers for Australia. The magnitude of exploitation seemed to involve so much subterfuge that many were unaware of its large scale existence.

Other media investigations conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) also found that temporary workers brought to Australia from Pacific Island countries under the Seasonal Worker Program had been ill treated and under paid. While this media investigation wasn’t as widely reported as that undertaken by Four Corners, it has identified systematic maltreatment of vulnerable temporary workers in Australia.

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The media and Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment are not the only investigations that have been undertaken into the exploitation of foreign temporary workers in Australia. In 2015 a major investigation was undertaken by Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman. The investigation undertaken by the Fair Work Ombudsman looked into labour hire organisations that hired temporary workers from outside of Australia to fill seasonal jobs in regional Australia. The investigation findings were quite damning of some labour hire organisations finding that they were “elusive” and had similar operating patterns to organised crime syndicates.

Internationally it is well known that organised crime syndicates prey on the vulnerabilities of temporary workers and those trying to find a better life in a new country. So the findings of the Fair Work Ombudsman come as little surprise as it is reflective of international trends. However, the findings show that backpackers looking to come to Australia on a working holiday and other temporary workers coming to Australia should seek the assistance of a reputable agent to assist them with all of their working holiday needs. A reputable agent will ensure that there is less likelihood for temporary workers coming to Australia becoming exploited.

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Temporary foreign workers who come to Australia on valid visas provide a valuable contribution to Australia’s workforce. Temporary workers such as backpackers on working holidays often fill the necessary gaps when industries and areas of regional Australia struggle with severe labour shortages. While these visas provide great opportunities for both temporary workers from overseas and also Australian businesses, the programs like anything can be subject to exploitation. The exploitation of temporary foreign workers highlights the importance of people coming to Australia to receive specialised advice from a reputable agent to ensure that they are no subject to any form of exploitation while they are in Australia on a working holiday.

The Australian Governments Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment has been undertaking a comprehensive and detailed review of Australia’s Temporary Worker Visa programs. The review has uncovered evidence that shows significant exploitation of people who enter Australia on Temporary Work Visa’s. The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment highlighted its concerns by bluntly stating that the evidence of temporary worker exploitation uncovered was a “National disgrace”.

nnewws

The review by the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment concentrated their investigations on temporary workers who come to Australia under the following visas:

1. The Seasonal Worker Program for Pacific Islanders;
2. Skilled Worker Visas under Visa Subclass 457;
3. Working Holiday Visas under Visa Subclass 417; and
4. Working Holiday Visas under Visa Subclass 462.

As part of their investigations the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment obtained evidence from temporary workers, labour hire organisations, small business and also union officials. The culmination of the review has led to thee Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment making a number of recommendations for current visa schemes to be changed to reduce the opportunity for exploitation.

While the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment have been made in good faith and with the intention of protecting temporary workers while they are in Australia, there are concerns that if the recommendations are implemented there could be a detrimental effect. The implementation of stricter immigration policies so that temporary workers are protected from exploitation can actually have a reverse effect and leave temporary workers vulnerable to even greater exploitation. The recommendations may see temporary dissuaded from reporting exploitation for fear of not being gainfully employed during their working holiday in Australia.

Media Investigations into Visa Exploitation

Recent investigative reporting undertaken by one of Australia’s leading current affairs programs, Four Corners uncovered wide spread exploitation of temporary workers by labour recruitment organisations. The exploitation this media investigation uncovered was of such seriousness that industry leaders within the Agricultural sector and politicians made commitments to stamp out rogue labour hire organisations involved in recruiting temporary workers for Australia. The magnitude of exploitation seemed to involve so much subterfuge that many were unaware of its large scale existence.

Other media investigations conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) also found that temporary workers brought to Australia from Pacific Island countries under the Seasonal Worker Program had been ill treated and under paid. While this media investigation wasn’t as widely reported as that undertaken by Four Corners, it has identified systematic maltreatment of vulnerable temporary workers in Australia.

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The media and Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment are not the only investigations that have been undertaken into the exploitation of foreign temporary workers in Australia. In 2015 a major investigation was undertaken by Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman. The investigation undertaken by the Fair Work Ombudsman looked into labour hire organisations that hired temporary workers from outside of Australia to fill seasonal jobs in regional Australia. The investigation findings were quite damning of some labour hire organisations finding that they were “elusive” and had similar operating patterns to organised crime syndicates.

Internationally it is well known that organised crime syndicates prey on the vulnerabilities of temporary workers and those trying to find a better life in a new country. So the findings of the Fair Work Ombudsman come as little surprise as it is reflective of international trends. However, the findings show that backpackers looking to come to Australia on a working holiday and other temporary workers coming to Australia should seek the assistance of a reputable agent to assist them with all of their working holiday needs. A reputable agent will ensure that there is less likelihood for temporary workers coming to Australia becoming exploited.

Recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment

The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment tabled its report on its investigation of Temporary Worker Visas with Parliament. In all there were 33 recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee including what it believed was its greatest recommendation that data relating to how many temporary workers are in Australia at any one time and the amount of time they have stayed in Australia be made more readily available. It was the opinion of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment that many temporary workers simply fell of the radar and were therefore more vulnerable to exploitation.

Evidence was heard by the Standing Committee from people working temporarily in Australia of systematic abuses from labour hire organisations and threats made to temporary workers that should they complain about pay or working conditions they would be deported. This led to the Standing Committee on Education and Employment making strong recommendations for Australia’s Working Holiday Visa Schemes to be reviewed so protective measures can be put in place to stop exploitation.

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A number of other recommendations in the report were aimed at establishing a victim centric complaints mechanism for temporary workers in Australia so they could voice legitimate complaints against labour hire organisations without fear of reprisal. While at face value this seems like a good recommendation, the ability to maintain the anonymity of complainants will be the key to the success of this recommendation. Many vulnerable temporary workers will need significant assurances that they will remain anonymous before they will even consider making a complaint about their employer.

The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment also made recommendations for the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration to become more independent, The Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration is a body that is made up of industry representatives, representatives of government agencies and union members and is designed to provide advice to the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection regarding temporary and skilled migration schemes. The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment is of the opinion that if the Advisory Council was more independent there would be freer exchange of information between all representatives and more beneficial initiatives could be recommended to the Minister.

Recommendations for Changes to Australian Immigration Laws

The Senate Standing Committee for Education and Employment made some recommendations so that Australia’s immigration laws were amended. The committee found from its investigation that the following recommended immigration law amendments were warranted:

1. Legislation that would allow temporary workers whose temporary work visa’s had expired the ability to pursue unfair work claims after they had left Australia;
2. Legislation that would see children of temporary foreign workers being eligible for free vaccinations while they are in Australia; and
3. Legislation that would allow former temporary workers who have received permanent or serious injuries in the Australian workplace to have access to rehabilitation and compensation packages.

While these legislative recommendations would undoubtedly be beneficial for temporary workers when they come to Australia, they could also be seen as being cost prohibitive in the long run.

The recommendations, especially allowing temporary workers to pursue unfair work claims after they have left Australia could also be seen as a double edged sword. While there needs to be protective measures put in place for the benefit of temporary workers, these measures also need to encourage employment for temporary workers.

The is no dispute that there are unscrupulous employers in Australia, and indeed it has been found that there are many unscrupulous labour hire organisations, not all employers and labour hire organisations do the wrong thing by temporary workers. The introduction of these legislative changes may see some employers fearful of hiring temporary workers due to the potential for false allegations being levelled towards them after temporary workers leave the country.

This is likely to see vulnerable workers left with little employment opportunities while they are in Australia and forced to seek work in a cash economy where exploitation is free to continue. It is difficult for protective measures to be successful when temporary workers are forced into an employment system that is difficult to regulate. The government should exercise extreme caution when considering the recommendations for legislative change and ensure detailed modelling is undertaken prior to making any decision to implement the recommendations.

Conclusion

The investigations undertaken by the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment, The Fair Work Ombudsman and also various media outlets have identified that temporary workers in Australia are vulnerable to exploitation. While the investigations that have been undertaken have not identified how extensive this exploitation is, it has certainly shown that it does exist. Not all backpackers who come to Australia on a working holiday or temporary worker in Australia is exposed to exploitation so it is important that knee jerk responses are put in place.

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The findings of the investigations do highlight that backpackers looking to come to Australia on a working holiday or others who are looking to come and work in Australia temporarily need to obtain reputable and specialised advice. This advice will ensure that backpackers or temporary workers will be less vulnerable to exploitation in the Australian work place. There are specialised companies who deal with all matters related to backpackers and temporary workers who can provide detailed advice to people coming to Australia on taxation, superannuation and employment.

Backpackers and temporary workers looking to come to Australia on a working holiday or to undertake seasonal employment should not be dissuaded from coming to Australia because of the findings about unscrupulous employers. In the main, Australian employers provide backpackers and temporary workers with better working conditions and pay rates than many of them experience in their home countries. Unscrupulous employers are still a rarity and are not the norm.

So long as backpackers and people looking to undertake temporary work in Australia obtain the right advice from a reputable agent then they will be on the right track to avoiding any exploitation while working in Australia. A working holiday in Australia is a remarkable experience for young and old people alike. The experiences gained by overseas workers in Australia not only vocationally but also culturally outweigh the slight chance that they will encounter workplace exploitation. The key to ensuring that a working holiday for backpackers and other temporary workers goes to plan comes down to the specialised advice they receive before and during their stay in Australia.

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