The Migrant Workers’ Taskforce held its fourth meeting on 21 June 2017 in Canberra. I thank members for their contribution.
I would like to thank Fiona McLeod SC for presenting to the Taskforce in her capacity as Chair of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery’s Labour Exploitation Working Group. Ms McLeod has been recognised for her work in pro bono and human rights matters, including human trafficking. It is critical that government agencies continue to work with community and other organisations to address the exploitation of vulnerable workers.
The Taskforce will hold stakeholder roundtables in Melbourne and Sydney in July. I am looking forward to hearing directly from legal organisations, community groups, academics, employers, industry and representative bodies on suitable policy responses and remedies to the issue of workplace exploitation of migrant workers.
There are a number of other government bodies actively looking at issues related to vulnerable workers, including the Black Economy Taskforce and the Phoenix Taskforce. I have met with my counterparts in both Taskforces and we have noted many areas of shared interest. It is important that we keep working together to optimise the Government response to worker exploitation and other breaches of Australian law.
The Taskforce explored options to address the exploitation of migrant workers by rogue labour hire operators. Members agreed to do further work on options to present to Government for its consideration, including the option for an employer registration scheme.
Working holiday visas
The Taskforce discussed the eligibility requirements to apply for a second year of the working holiday visas. It discussed the results of changes to the requirements for the grant of a second year visa, as well as the effectiveness of related measures designed to reduce the risk of exploitation by some unscrupulous employers. The Taskforce agreed that this issue would be discussed further at the next meeting.
At its first meeting in October 2016, the Taskforce asked the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to lead interagency discussions to progress the recommendations set out in its Inquiry into the wages and conditions of people working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program. Key agencies have since been working together to examine ways of utilising resources and regulatory frameworks to develop sustainable outcomes.
Initiatives such as a digital media campaign to target Working Holiday Makers; the establishment of a new cross-agency committee to enhance education and compliance amongst Working Holiday Makers and their employers, and optimising data sharing opportunities between agencies are well progressed, and will make a contribution to address the issues uncovered in the FWO’s report. I look forward to the final outcomes of this interagency work.
Strengthening protections for vulnerable workers
Taskforce members are continuing to work on new ways to strengthen protections for vulnerable migrant workers. The reporting protocol agreed between the FWO and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is now operational. The protocol was established to ensure that temporary visa holders are able to report exploitation without fear of their visa being cancelled for working more hours than their visa allowed. There is evidence that this approach is having an effect and a number of referrals have been handled under the protocol. No adverse actions have been taken against these workers where there were no other visa breaches. I trust that migrant workers will continue to be encouraged to come forward.
The Taskforce is continuing to monitor the progress of 7-Eleven in rectifying its breaches, as set out under its Terms of Reference. I note that the Supreme Court of New South Wales recently held that 7-Eleven was lawfully entitled to terminate a franchisee for fraud in circumstances where the franchisee had been exploiting its workers through an illegal cash-back arrangement.
It is important to note that the Franchising Code of Conduct did not inhibit 7-Eleven from taking action, and that franchisors are able to terminate agreements in certain circumstances and when required. It appears, on this basis, that the Franchising Code is operating effectively.
Along with the issue of labour hire, the Taskforce will now be turning its attention to enhanced redress arrangements for employees as our next area of focus. It is my view that we should identify ways for workers to have quick and effective avenues to recover lost wages.
The next Taskforce meeting is scheduled for early September 2017.