The federal government has been called to amend a bill to ensure vulnerable migrant workers will not face deportation for reporting employer exploitation.
On Wednesday, Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Andrew Giles will launch a report into the disturbing treatment of temporary migrant workers, titled: Not Just Numbers: A Blueprint of Visa Protections for Temporary Migrant Workers.
The harrowing report detailed one instance in which a migrant was forced to live in “shipping containers,” with his boss deducting substantial payments for the meagre accommodation arrangements.
Prepared by Unions NSW, The Migrant Workers Centre Inc. (MWC), the Human Rights Law Centre, Migrant Justice Institute, and the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, the advocacy groups called for an Exploited Worker Guarantee to safeguard migrants against having their visa cancelled if they speak out against having their worker’s rights breached.
They also recommended the implementation of a Workplace Justice visa to allow workers to remain in Australia if they choose to pursue action against an employer if their rights are breached.
The report detailed repeated instances in which migrants on employee-sponsored and temporary visas were underpaid, and forced to remain in workplaces despite being subjected to dangerous conditions or harassment. Workers said they were unable to leave their roles without risking the cancellation of their visa, with many facing deportation once they left their jobs.
In one case study, a migrant under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, Kaipo, said he was forced to live in shipping containers and given a kitchen that consisted of a BBQ, despite his work supposedly providing him with accommodation.
When he confronted his employer about substantial deductions being taken out of his pay slip, he was told to “move out,” however Kaipo was unable to find another home due to a lack of a rental history.
When Kaipo left his employer, his visa was cancelled, which forced him to return to his home country with no action taken against his boss.
The report comes as the government is set to debate the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill later this year.
The bill seeks to increase penalties and introduce new compliant tools to deter exploitation of migrant workers and prohibition notices which will stop offending employers from hiring people on temporary visas.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said while the proposed reforms were a good start, they didn’t go far enough.
“Temporary migrants who want to speak up about and escape exploitation do so at the risk of being kicked out of the country,” he said.
“This is because the employer can retaliate by anonymously telling the Department of Home Affairs that the worker is in breach of their visa.”
He said there needed to be more punishment targeted at companies and businesses exploiting workers, and increased protections which protect workers who do speak out.
“This exploitative power imbalance damages Australia’s migration system and international reputation,” he said.
“It also lets dodgy companies get away with continuing to bring in new workers to exploit.”
While the government has yet to commit to the above clauses, it will continue to consult with stakeholders.
The reforms are expected to get a smooth passage through parliament after Coalition MPs resolved to support the legislation.