The Migrant Workers Centre, Unions NSW, the Human Rights Law Centre, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, and Migrant Justice Institute have set out the roadmap for strong and robust visa protections for migrant workers in a new report: Not Just Numbers: A Blueprint of Visa Protections for Temporary Migrant Workers.
For too long, the Australian Government’s migration laws have put profits over people and left migrant workers systematically disadvantaged at work. Earlier this year, the Albanese Government recognised that the migration system was “not fit-for-purpose” and temporary migrant workers were experiencing a “crisis of exploitation”.
The new report contains stories of migrant workers on different visas and across the country, and their experiences at work – from wage theft to unsafe work and sexual harassment, to threats and bullying. The common thread is the lack of visa security and protection for workers to speak up about exploitation at work.
The report backs the calls made by unions and experts for the introduction of strong, reliable and enforceable visa protections for migrant workers as the first step towards ending exploitation. This includes a Workplace Justice visa and a guarantee against visa cancellation for exploited workers.
Quotes attributed to Massimo Calosi, Italian hospitality worker and workplacerights ambassador of the Migrant Workers Centre:
“I know first-hand the way that employers can use our visa status to threaten and intimidate us as migrant workers. The threat of visa cancellation keeps workers silent about what goes on at work. This happened to me – I knew I was being underpaid in my job, but I also knew that if I spoke up, it would risk my visa, and so my hands were tied.
“I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have friends who have been in the country for more than ten years and still have no visa security and are totally reliant on their employers. This shouldn’t be happening to any worker in this country.
“We need to start with strong protections to allow migrant workers to leave bad employers without risking their visa. And we need these protections now.”
Quotes attributed to Sanmati Verma, Managing Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre:
"Since the 7-11 scandal almost a decade ago, we’ve known that the risk of visa cancellation stops migrant workers from taking action to end exploitation. For a decade, migrant workers have demanded protection against visa cancellation if they have been exploited at work.
“Those demands have gone unheeded and now we’re facing a crisis at a monumental scale. At least three quarters of temporary migrant workers are being underpaid and silenced while Australian bosses take advantage to post record profits.
“The Minister could change the law tomorrow to provide migrant workers with the protection against visa cancellation. We’re calling on him to take that critical step today.’
Quotes attributed to Matt Kunkel, CEO of the Migrant Workers Centre:
“Insecurity and uncertainty are baked into our migration system. Removing the threat that a worker’s visa may be cancelled for standing up for their rights is an essential first step towards better, fairer workplaces for everyone that works in Australia.
“Too often, migrant workers we see, choose not to pursue abusive or exploitative bosses for fear of losing their visa. Nothing less than a guarantee against visa cancellation will provide the certainty that migrant workers need to assert their rights and be treated as equals in our workplaces.
“It’s unconscionable that our visa system forces migrant workers to choose between being treated fairly at work and their ability to stay in Australia.”
Quotes attributed to Joshua Strutt, Principal Solicitor of the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre:
“IARC has witnessed first-hand the precarious position the current migration system places people in. We have heard from migrants that have been injured, sexually assaulted and kept in slavery-like conditions while at work in Australia.
Unfortunately, they are too afraid to speak out for fear of jeopardising their future in Australia. “We need robust changes that guarantee a person’s visa status and pathway to empower migrants to speak out and leave exploitative workplaces. Everyone deserves to be safe regardless of visa status.”
Quotes attributed to Bassina Farbenblum, Co-Executive Director Migrant Justice Institute, and Assoc. Prof. Faculty of Law & Justice, UNSW Sydney:
“In surveys of over 10,000 international students we found three quarters were paid less than the minimum wage for casual workers. But the overwhelming majority suffered in silence: fewer than one in 10 told anybody. Very few international students approach the Fair Work Ombudsman for fear they will jeopardise their visa.
“With the reintroduction of restrictions on student work hours last month, many who are underpaid will work more hours than they’re allowed in order to make minimum wage, and will be forced to accept illegally low wages in silence. The government cannot fix this crisis without introducing robust visa protections for these students to safely report exploitation.”
For more information and media enquiries, please contact:
Omar Ghazala, Digital and Communications Officer
P: 0468 744 219
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