Australia was built on a workforce of immigrants, however, despite being largely a successful multicultural society, there remains a significant gap in awareness of the rights of migrants in Australia.
At TMA, we connect top global talent to great Australian employers, but unfortunately migrants don’t always find a way to access quality employment opportunities in Australia.
This fact was revealed in a survey where 65 per cent of temporary visa holders in Australia said they had experienced underpayment, and one in four migrants were exploited in the workplace. (Source: The Migrant Workers Centre’s Lives in Limbo report)
Recent highly publicised underpayment scandals, lengthy court cases, severe penalties and a Senate inquiry examining new laws to protect migrant workers from exploitation shows the situation in its raw entirety.
Regardless of their immigration status, all migrants and visa holders are entitled to the same rights as Australian employees. In this blog, immigration specialist and TMA Managing Director, Sarah Thapa, shares insights into the all-too-common migrant exploitative situations happening in our community, and what employers and employees alike need to know about the law and treating migrant workers equally.
What is migrant exploitation?
“Exploitation is the action or act of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work, for example, the exploitation of migrant workers.” – (Oxford Dictionary).
Migrants can be exploited in various ways, including being offered terms of employment that are not on par with what would be offered to an Australian employee.
For example, wages below the market rate or legal minimum, being expected to work more hours because they are on a visa, or not having the same entitlements other employees in a workplace may have.
And this very much exists in our community.
What migrant exploitation situations can look like
In one of the latest high-profile migrant exploitation cases, an Australian construction company, CIMIC Group, has been accused of allegedly underpaying hundreds of workers, including Australians, in its Middle East operations to the tune of more than $500 million.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports “some workers, who spent years with the company, are stranded in labour camps, afraid to leave the premises because their visa and IDs have expired, and unable to return home because they have run out of funds. They have been waiting up to a year for months of unpaid wages and end of service entitlements after being made redundant or having resigned”. Link on words to
This case shows how damaging it can be to allow exploitation to occur within a company’s supply chain or international operations.
At the same time, a Senate inquiry into migrant exploitation in Australia has begun after foreign workers were allegedly being paid $40 a day, plus a $42 food and accommodation allowance, may see a potential legislative change on the horizon.
Examples of real-life migrant exploitation in Australia
- Childcare: A Sydney childcare centre operator had to pay $30,240 in penalties for failing to back-pay two migrant employees who worked for the centre under the guise of a volunteer arrangement, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).
- Waste management: A major waste management company is facing court, for allegedly underpaying five “vulnerable” migrant workers to a total of $194,249 for work performed at waste-management facilities in Dandenong and Hallam.
- Disability services: The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action in the Federal Circuit Court against the operators of a disability services company in Perth and its owner. It is alleged the company had underpaid six employees $80,280.91 between 2015 and 2020. The employees included a visa holder from India and a visa holder from Ireland.
Exploitation can also occur in families
Exploitation can also occur in families, where individuals bring family members, such as elderly parents, to Australia on a parent or partner visa, and then that person may be subjected to exploitation and expected to work in exchange for being on a family-sponsored visa.
They may not be treated equally, may not have freedom of movement, be restricted from study or socialising or developing their own social networks in Australia, and they may have language barriers that prevent them from being able to engage with Australian society.
If you look at the meaning of exploitation, it is treating someone unfairly to benefit from their work – and work can mean your workplace employment and it may also relate to exploitation of a family member, where an elderly parent is at home providing childcare services for 12-14 hours a day.
Migrant rights and the Australian law
While TMA provides awareness and education on migrants’ rights, it’s important for all employers and migrants to understand what those rights are.
From international students to highly skilled global talent, migrant workers and visa holders are protected under Australian law and have the same workplace and employment rights as Australian employees.
That means they are entitled to fair terms of work, are paid above the legal minimum, and are entitled to all requirements of the Fair Work Act and modern awards. If an organisation has employees who hold a valid visa, they need to be employed in the same way as an Australian citizen.
TMA’s commitment to stamp out migrant exploitation in Australia
At TMA, as part of our commitment to immigration solutions, we work to educate employers on the rights of migrants, and help them to understand how the law protects all people working in Australia, including migrants and temporary visa holders.
This was, in fact, the core foundation that The Migration Agency was built on.
TMA was founded with a clear purpose to enable talent mobility for our clients – both businesses and individuals – to deliver their unique value to the world. However, we also wanted to ensure that quality immigration solutions and advice were available to everyone, whether it is an individual or business, and especially vulnerable migrants.
Migrants should not be afraid to speak up
Migrant workers who have been exploited face a difficult predicament because they fear they will lose their visa and be deported if they speak up.
It’s common for employers and/or partners to threaten to have a migrant’s visa cancelled if they report exploitation or mistreatment. However, we want migrants to know that their visa won’t be at risk if they come forward to obtain legal advice regarding their current circumstances. The highly skilled TMA team may be able to assist in helping you change your situation.
For more information on how TMA can help with your immigration needs, contact our highly skilled team today and let us help you.