Employers guilty of migrant worker exploitation to be publicly named

Source: 1News

The Government has announced new measures to crack down on migrant worker exploitation.

The Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill is set to strengthen current penalties for exploitation as well as introduce a new programme to educate migrants about employment rights.

Associate Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, says the bill is a "comprehensive approach to stamping out migrant exploitation".

“We need to ensure we educate migrant workers so that they know their rights, better protect those who have been exploited by providing further access to support, and hold exploitative employers to account."

The bill will also introduce a public register of people and businesses found guilty of worker exploitation, and infringement offences for non-compliance.

Seasonal worker (file picture).

Radhakrishnan says this will ensure lower level offences are stamped out "before it becomes more serious".

It follows Tuesday's announcement of an additional 3000 places within the RSE scheme, bringing the annual cap on workers to 19,000.

It's the biggest boost to the scheme in more than a decade, but there were concerns the Government has lifted the number of employees without targeting the alleged exploitative conditions faced by some Pacific workers.

The Green Party says the measures "stopped short" of meaningful change, describing it as an "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff".

“The Government is still allowing employers to have control over people’s lives and their ability to stay in the country. This can force people to accept unfair wages or unsafe working conditions," said Green Party immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March.

Menéndez March said the current system "continues to reduce migrants to economic units instead of people" by forcing them to stick with one employer.

“If the Government is serious about ending migrant worker exploitation then it needs to decouple work visas, so people’s livelihoods are not dependent on one employer."

Criticism of the scheme had come following reports of some RSE workers living in overcrowded, unsafe conditions and repeatedly falling ill as a result. Allegations of workers being unfairly charged for food and accommodation by employers had also emerged.

“It’s good to see the Government taking some action to prevent exploitation," Menéndez March said.

"But without addressing the conditions that make it easy for employers to exploit migrants in the first place many of our communities will continue to suffer."

Radhakrishnan rejected the Greens' criticisms today in Parliament.

"I absolutely do not accept that what we are doing is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff or that it is not good enough," she said.

"Frankly, no other government has taken the steps that we have to do this."

She said the Government is working, in line with the Select Committee report, to "prevent migrant exploitation from ever occurring" through a programme informing and raising awareness of migrant workers' rights, and employers of their legal obligations.

"We're ensuring that we do what we can to expose both migrant workers and employers to those rights."

In addition to decoupling work visas, the Green Party has proposed extending the length of the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa and introduce amnesty for overstayers subject to exploitation due to their immigration status.