Chair’s Public Statement March 2018 meeting

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Chair's Public Statement
Professor Allan Fels AO

The Migrant Workers’ Taskforce held its eighth meeting on 29 March 2018 in Canberra. I thank members for their contributions.

I am pleased that Minister Cash has agreed to extend the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce for a further six months until end September 2018. I asked Minister Cash for an extension, as I believe there is more we can do both within the portfolio and across government to address the issue of migrant worker exploitation in Australian workplaces. The community is rightly very concerned about the nature and negative impacts of worker exploitation. Exploitation of migrant workers also has the potential to affect Australia’s international reputation.  

While the Taskforce has made good progress on a number of issues to date, our priorities over the next six months will be to:

  • Consider potential policy options in the areas of Education and Training, Agriculture and Home Affairs.
  • Examine more closely proposals for improvements in law, law enforcement and investigation or other practical measures to more quickly identify and rectify cases of migrant worker exploitation including issues of redress for underpaid workers.
  • Dig deeper into potential reforms across Commonwealth portfolios.

To facilitate this, the Taskforce will meet every five weeks until its conclusion.

The Taskforce will provide a Progress Report to Minister Cash shortly. In this report, we will flag some early recommendations in areas canvassed by the Taskforce, and flag the work the Taskforce will focus on over the next 6 months.

The Terms of Reference of the Taskforce have been updated to reflect the extension of time.

At its recent meeting, the Taskforce discussed a number of policy ideas put forward by academics who attended a workshop convened by the Melbourne University Law School aimed at improving redress mechanisms for temporary migrant workers. The Department of Jobs and Small Business will shortly hold a workshop to further explore these ideas. The Taskforce will also seek to meet with a broader range of stakeholders including employers.

The Taskforce also discussed the reporting protocol agreed between the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and the Department of Home Affairs to encourage migrant workers to come forward with complaints. Under the protocol, which I announced in January 2017, the Department will generally not cancel a visa, detain or remove from Australia temporary visa holders with work rights providing the visa holder has reported their circumstances to the FWO commits to abiding by visa conditions in the future and there is no other basis for visa cancellation (such as on national security, character, health or fraud grounds). The FWO and Department of Home Affairs have agreed to review the protocol now that it has been in operation for 12 months, including further opportunities to promote its awareness among migrant workers.

The Taskforce was asked by Government to monitor the progress of 7-Eleven in rectifying underpayments made by its franchisees. The Taskforce recently received correspondence from 7-Eleven outlining that it has now paid some 3,628 claims to a value of $160 million. The Progress Report will comment further on the Taskforce’s monitoring of the 7 Eleven wage remediation scheme.

Next steps

The Taskforce will meet again in early May 2018.