Fair go for visa workers

Release date: 18/03/2012

The Federal Government is being lobbied for a watchdog to expose unscrupulous employers who oppress and intimidate migrant workers.

Phillip Thomson, The Canberra Times

Temporary workers on 457 visas are left without legal recourse when their bosses exploit them because Australian laws do not fit together well enough, argues the Transport Workers Union and a second group, Migration Alliance.

Their argument is set out in a submission to the federal government's independent review of the legal backbone of Australia's workplace relations system, the Fair Work Act.

The two groups want what they call a Fair Work Immigration Inspectorate and have called for reforms to the Migration Act as well. They say the Migration Act leaves migrant workers exposed to exploitation because their visas can be cancelled, leaving them in no position to negotiate conditions in the spirit of existing workplace relations law.

The two groups called for each migrant on a temporary visa to be given a fact sheet by their employer which set out minimum wages and standards.

They also called for a migrant telephone help line to be set up.

''It is a common held view that migrant workers seeking to be employed in Australia on a 457 visa or sponsored under an employer nomination scheme are unable to avail themselves of the advantages and protections associated with collective bargaining,'' the submission said.

''Migrant workers are often employed piecemeal and in effect receive advice concerning the offer of employment with the immigration assistance.''

The submission said migrant workers were often threatened with having their work withdrawn, meaning their visa would be cancelled.

In one case it was claimed an employer in the Northern Territory tried to extort $8000 from a migrant worker to extend the worker's visa.

The outcome of the review will be summarised in a report due at the end of May.

The review is being done by Reserve Bank board member John Edwards, former Federal Court judge Michael Moore and noted legal and workplace relations academic Professor Ron McCallum.

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