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Australia is introducing “game changing” protections for migrant workers

  • Published on
    June 4, 2023
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  • Category:
    Anti-Slavery Activists, Forced Labor, Law & Policy, Prevention
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Migrant workers have long felt unprotected from exploitation in Australia. This may be about to change, according to the government which has just announced new migrant worker protections that some advocates call “game changing.”

Jail time for exploitative employers

Announced changes, to be introduced in the coming weeks, include:

  • A penalty of up to two years for employers who force workers to breach their visa condition
  • A ban on employers who exploit migrant workers from hiring other visa holders
  • A whistleblower visa which will allow migrant workers to remain in Australia while pursuing an exploitation claim
  • An increase in time – up to 180 days – for a temporary worker to find a new employer

Daniel Hurst at the Guardian reports,

The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, said that over the past 10 years the migration system had “drifted deeper and deeper into reliance on low-paid temporary migrant workers who we know are routinely exploited”.

The immigration minister, Andrew Giles, said the planned reforms would help workers speak up and target employers who did the wrong thing.

Giles cited Grattan Institute analysis that up to 16% of employed recently arrived migrants were paid below the national minimum wage as evidence of a crisis.

“When migrant workers are being underpaid – it hurts all of us, driving wages and conditions down for everyone,” he said.

A win for advocates

Led by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) and the Migrant Justice Institute (MJI), a coalition of 40 organizations including trade unions, migrant rights, community services and faith-based organizations, across Australia has provided the government with a detailed blueprint for protections for migrant workers.

Sanmati Verma, HRLC managing lawyer welcomes the government’s announcement but is cautious about the implementation:

“The Albanese government has heeded the call from migrant workers and their allies to introduce protections into the migration regime. It has a critical opportunity over the coming months to design out some of the levers for exploitation in the migration regime. If it is serious about achieving that, it will put migrant workers and their allies at the center of co-designing these critical protections.”

Tell governments to protect migrant workers

Australia may heading in the right direction but far too many countries are lagging behind while industries worldwide are increasingly relying on a vulnerable migrant workforce.

The Freedom United community is urging governments to enact laws and policies that protect migrants from modern slavery risks and other exploitative situations. In order to protect human rights and uphold global norms, immigration laws must prioritize these values.

Join us today! Sign the petition and stand up for migrants.


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