Submission to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations regarding the scheme of assistance established under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Regulation 2012
The FEG scheme provides workers who lose their job due to liquidation or bankruptcy of the employer with assistance to recover unpaid wages and entitlements. When workers make a claim to the Government under the FEG scheme, the Government calculates their unpaid wages and entitlements and makes an advance payment to them.
Notably, the FEG scheme is beyond the reach of workers on temporary visas. Workers are required to include evidence of their Australian citizenship or residency status at the time their employment ended. If they did not hold a permanent visa or a Special Category visa, migrant workers are denied access to the FEG scheme.
Australia is heavily reliant on migrant workers who bring in skills and experience, fill labour shortages, and boost the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on the critical gaps in our economy and society that migrant workers continue to fill. Without migrant workers, shelves were left unstocked; hospitals could not function; and produce was abandoned to rot on farms. Migrant workers on temporary visas pay tax and contribute to the Government’s revenue from which the FEG scheme operates. Excluding migrant workers from the FEG scheme cannot be justified.
In its report to the Government in 2019, the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce recommended the extension of the FEG scheme to migrant workers on temporary visas. The Government in response committed to the extension of the FEG scheme to migrant workers by stating the following:
“Where [migrant workers on temporary visas] have been doing the right thing by satisfying their taxation obligations, the Government considers it reasonable that they, in turn, be protected by the FEG program”.
Excluding migrant workers from the FEG scheme inadvertently provides an incentive to unscrupulous businesses and brews a culture of exploiting migrant workers. Indeed, businesses are aware of the loophole, can intentionally engage migrant workers, delay paying wages, and file insolvency to avoid paying debts.
Being made redundant due to employer delinquency is a migrant worker’s nightmare if they were on a temporary visa. Not only they lose a job, but also they face an immediate challenge to put food on the table. As they have no access to income support through Centrelink, recovering the unpaid wages and entitlements is vital to migrant workers. Wages are the primary source of income for most working people. The Government must protect the wages of all, regardless of a workers’ migration status. The MWC submits that the FEG scheme should be re-conceptualised as a wage justice program and recommends that the Government extends the scheme to migrant workers on temporary visas accordingly.