Australia must protect migrant workers who report exploitation

Australia must protect migrant workers who report exploitation

  • Published on
    February 27, 2023
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy
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Over 40 Australian organizations are calling on the government to urgently introduce protections for migrant workers who report their employers for exploitation, including forced labor and other forms of modern slavery. 

Led by Human Rights Law Centre and the Migrant Justice Institute, the coalition has put forward a proposal, entitled Breaking the Silence, which asks the Federal government to establish whistleblower protections that would allow migrant workers to report abuse without consequences for their immigration status. 

Nine out of ten exploited migrant workers suffer in silence 

Studies by The Migrant Justice Institute show that around three quarters of migrant workers surveyed earned below the casual minimum wage in Australia. A quarter were earning less than half. Around 90% of those underpaid workers did not report their employers. 

Exploitation is widely underreported in Australia. Many migrant workers suffer in silence out of fear that reporting their experiences may put their right to stay in the country at risk. 

Protect whistleblowers from visa cancellation 

The Breaking the Silence proposal recommends establishing new protections for whistleblowers, including protection again visa cancellation for migrant workers who report their employer for exploitation, breaching their work conditions.  

Migrant workers who have faced exploitation should be able to access a short-term visa to enable them to stay in the country and pursue claims against their employers, according to the proposal. This visa should grant them the right to work. 

Without protections, exploitation will continue 

The current immigration system is making migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation. Sanmati Verma, Managing Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, says: 

The conditions for exploitation are built into our visa system. If migrant workers can’t speak up without fear of losing their place in Australia, most will never come forward. When they leave Australia, new migrant workers will simply replace them in those exploitative jobs. 

Cycles of exploitation are inevitable unless unscrupulous employers believe they will face punishment for violating labor rights. “Harsh penalties for unscrupulous employers are useless if migrant workers are too fearful to report them,” explain Associate Professor Laurie Berg, UTS, and Co-Executive Director of Migrant Justice Institute. 

Tell governments to prioritize human rights 

Punitive immigration policies have contributed to increasing vulnerabilities to human trafficking and modern slavery for migrants around the world.  

We’re calling on governments to pass immigration legislation that meets international human rights standards and empowers migrants to protect themselves from exploitation.  

Join the campaign today! Sign now. 

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