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SMEs and their role in migrant worker exploitation

Migration plays a significant role in Australia, helping to meet workforce needs, and contributing to the economy and social cohesion. At a recent consultation with COSBOA members , Home Affairs, emphasised the necessity of maintaining trust in the administration of Australia’s visa programs by proactively identifying and addressing the misuse of those programs for the purpose of exploitation.

Small businesses rely on migration for workers either to meet skills which are in short supply in key sectors and to meet significant workforce shortfalls in areas such as hospitality.

As outlined in the report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, migrant worker exploitation can:

“lead to negative flow-on effects to the proper functioning of the labour market and the economy. It is unfair not only to migrant workers, but also to other employees who are undercut on wages and job opportunities, and law abiding employers trying to compete on price.” (p. 13 Migrant Workers’ Taskforce report)

The exploitation of temporary migrant workers is an ongoing issue of concern for small business and the Government. Frequently it creates an uneven playing field for competitors. The Australian government has made a commitment to implementing recommendations 19 and 20 from the Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce. The recommendations are as follows;


Recommendation 19: It is recommended that the Government consider developing legislation so that a person who knowingly unduly influences, pressures or coerces a temporary migrant worker to breach a condition of their visa is guilty of an offence.

Recommendation 20: It is recommended that the Government explore mechanisms to exclude employers who have been convicted by a court of underpaying temporary migrant workers from employing new temporary visa holders for a specific period.

Earlier stakeholder feedback to date has highlighted that despite policy measures to provide safeguards and protections to encourage migrants to report cases of exploitation, migrants continue to fear adverse immigration consequences should they report exploitation.

– In a 2018 survey of almost 2000 migrants, 25% indicated fear of immigration consequences was the reason they did not engage in recovering unpaid wages from their employer.The penalties against unscrupulous employers has also been identified as being limited in its effect.Source: COSBOA


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