The federal government is toughening its stance on companies who hire illegal workers – and regardless of whether employers or HR realised the worker was illegal, companies could face fines of up to $50,000 and the prospect of having their offices and worksites raided.
New draft laws have been proposed which aim to penalise the act of employing a worker who is not in possession of a valid visa. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in a statement that illegal workers reduce work opportunities for Australians, and the limited set of criminal sanctions introduced by the previous government in 2007 were ineffective, hence new measures are needed.
The draft legislation includes new “evidence gathering powers” that would enable the immigration department to force an employer to produce documents or obtain a search warrant. The proposed penalties would mean companies could be fined up to $50,000 for a breach, even if they didn't realise the employee didn’t have work rights. “The decision to introduce non-fault civil penalties reflects the government's determination to address the problem of illegal work-hire practices without creating additional obligations on business,” a policy commentary released alongside the draft laws stated.
Importantly, statutory defences will enable employers to establish that they took reasonable steps to either verify that the foreign national worker was not an unlawful non-citizen or verify that the foreign national worker was not in breach of the work-related visa.
Employers will generally be protected so long as they can prove they checked the status of potential employees online. Organisations that wish to check the immigration status of candidate (with their consent) can do so for free at the DIAC Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service. The service was used for more than 485,330 work checks in 2011, and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said there was “simply no excuse” for employers not to use the online system.
The federal government is seeking feedback on the draft laws before they are introduced into parliament by the end of 2012.
Employer's vicarious liability: unauthorised acts of employees
Casual worker injury rates skyrocket
Carer's leave dismissal shines spotlight on adverse action claims
Complaint leads to $350k back pay nightmare
Three strikes is a myth in performance management
'Plain vanilla' redundancies found unfair by FWA