The Migrant Justice Institute – led by UNSW Sydney and UTS law professors – and the Human Rights Law Centre today welcome the Albanese Government's commitment to introducing visa-based protections for migrant workers who address exploitation at work.
The Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles committed today to introducing three important protections for migrant workers: protection against visa cancellation, flexible visa requirements for future sponsorship visas, and a short-term visa to bring claims for wages they are owed and hold exploitative employers to account.
The Human Rights Law Centre, Migrant Justice Institute and academics at UNSW and UTS have led a coalition of 40 organisations across the country - including trade unions, migrant rights and faith-based groups - to develop a blueprint for visa protections for migrant workers. Today’s announcement reflects the commitment of migrant workers and their allies.
Migrant Justice Institute and the Human Rights Law Centre also welcome the government’s announcement of two further protections for migrant workers, for which they and other migrant worker allies have campaigned for many years: regulations to enable sponsored migrants to leave a dodgy employer and work to support themselves for up to six months while they find a new sponsor, and a commitment to changing the Migration Act to ensure all workers are protected by Australian workplace laws regardless of immigration status.
The coalition warned, however, that in order to be effective, visa-based protections must be robust and reflect the realities of migrants’ lives at work. The ‘co-design’ of those protections by the Department of Home Affairs must centre around the concerns of migrant workers, their representatives in the union movement and allies.
Inderjit Kaur, a temporary visa holder and advocate with the Migrant Workers Centre said she had first-hand experience of wage theft and exploitation because of a lack of protection for migrant workers.
“I had my wages stolen by two employers, because they knew my visa could be cancelled if I stood up to them, and they took advantage of that," she said.
"Because I had no security with my visa, I could not take action until it was too late. I never got back any of the money that was stolen from me and my visa is now uncertain. This should not have happened to my family, and it should not happen to migrants who are coming to Australia now.”
Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum, Co-Executive Director of the Migrant Justice Institute, and UNSW Faculty of Law & Justice said the introduction of visa protections could be a watershed moment in designing exploitation out of the migration system.
“The visa protections announced today could be a game-changer for stopping the exploitation of migrant workers in Australia – if they are effectively designed. For the first time, migrant workers could safely address wage theft and walk away from employers who exploit them without risking their visa. Dodgy employers will no longer be able to assume that international students and other migrants will suffer in silence if they’re underpaid or abused.”
Associate Professor Laurie Berg, Co-Executive Director of the Migrant Justice Institute, and Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney said the changes need to be implemented urgently.
“The cap on international students’ work hours returns on 1 July," she said.
"Employers know that if students work more hours than permitted, their visa could be cancelled if they report abuse. The combination of cost-of-living pressures to work more hours and lack of visa protections will create a perfect storm for widespread exploitation that may be the worst we’ve seen.”
Sanmati Verma, Managing Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said while the Federal Government's action is welcome, there is still much to do to ensure migrant workers' rights are protected.
“The Albanese government has heeded the call from migrant workers and their allies to introduce protections into the migration regime. It has a critical opportunity over the coming months to design out some of the levers for exploitation in the migration regime. If it is serious about achieving that, it will put migrant workers and their allies at the centre of co-designing these critical protections.”
The Migrant Justice Institute, the Human Rights Law Centre and law academics at UTS and UNSW have provided the government with a detailed blueprint for visa-based protections endorsed by more than 40 trade unions, migrant rights, community services and faith-based organisations across the country, including the NSW Modern Slavery Commissioner. These proposed reforms were recently endorsed by the Grattan Institute, the Global Slavery Index and the UN Global Compact Network of Australia – a network that includes many ASX100 companies.
The proposal includes a new Workplace Justice Visa for migrant workers to enforce their labour rights and an Exploited Worker Visa Guarantee for workers whose visa could be cancelled.