'We're committed to stamping it out wherever it's happening and protecting all workers'
Coercing an employee into breaching their visa conditions will soon be a criminal offence in Australia, as part of the government's incoming measures to crack down exploitation of migrant workers.
In a legislation to be introduced in the coming weeks, the government said it will make it a "criminal offence to use a worker's visa status to accept exploitative conditions in the workplace."
"Penalties under the Migration Act will be significantly increased to better deter unscrupulous employers," said Immigration Minister Andrew Giles in a speech this week.
This move is only one of the key measures to be introduced by the government amid what it called a "crisis of exploitation in Australia."
Introducing prohibition notices
In another measure, the government said it will also introduce so-called "prohibition notices" that will stop employers from further hiring people on temporary visas where they have exploited migrants.
According to Giles, these notices will be triggered by breaches under both the Migration Act and the Fair Work Act. There will also be triggers for deliberate and repeated cases of non-compliance by employers.
"In industries where exploitation is particularly widespread – accommodation, food services, cleaning, and construction – this is a necessary step to show we can tackle exploitation where it is most prevalent," the minister said.
Repealing Section 235
The government said it will also "increase penalties and new compliance tools to deter exploitation," as well as repeal a section of the Migration Act.
The Section 235 of the Migration Act makes it a criminal offence to breach a work-related visa condition, a provision that criminalises speaking out for exploited migrant workers.
"One of the most important measures in our Bill will be to repeal this," Giles said. "Despite not being used since introduction, the mere presence of such a provision understandably discourages people from reporting exploitation."
"We will remove this anachronism."
More power for the ABF
Meanwhile, the Australian Border Force (ABF) will also be getting "new powers, including enforceable undertakings and compliance notices to target employers."
The government will be extending $50 million in funding to the ABF to help it carry out these responsibilities.
"We have heard from the ABF they do not have the tools necessary to tackle the crisis," Giles said.
"That won't be the case in the future."
Cases of mistreatment
The new measures are part of the government's efforts to stamp out migrant worker exploitation in Australia. Findings from the Grattan Institute, as cited by the government, revealed that one in six migrants are paid below the minimum wage.
Giles added that he has also heard cases of wage theft, sham contracting, locked away passports, sexual harassment and assault, as well as migrant workers being afraid to speak up due to potential repercussions.
"The list of behaviours is almost endless, those circumstances where workers' choices have been curtailed, with many unable to quit," the minister said.
The blame on the crisis has been pinned to the previous government, who "neglected" the migrant workers, according to Employment Minister Tony Burke.
"We're fixing that," he said in a media release. "We're committed to stamping it out wherever it's happening and protecting all workers working in Australia – regardless of their migration status."