New bill offers better protection for temporary overseas workers PDF Print E-mail

 

A new bill introduced into the Senate recently by Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, will provide a new framework to better protect temporary overseas workers in Australia.

 

The Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008 aims to protect overseas workers from exploitation by strengthening the integrity of working arrangements. The bill includes workers from the Subclass 457 visa programme, which saw 60 000 visas granted to overseas workers.


Senator Evans explained that the resources boom, low levels of unemployment and failure of the previous government to invest in local education and training programmes had contributed to endemic skills shortages. In response to these shortages, Australian employers had, over the past five years, increasingly turned to the temporary skilled migration programme to find the skilled workers they needed.


Protecting Australian wages and conditions
The programme could only be sustained, however, if the community was convinced that overseas workers were not being exploited or used to undermine local wages and conditions.


According to Evans, existing provisions for the disclosure of information had proved insufficient and ineffective in ensuring fair payment of overseas workers and protecting Australian wages and conditions. Therefore the new bill includes amendments, which allow the Commissioner of Taxation to disclose tax information of visa holders, former visa holders, approved sponsors, or former approved sponsors to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. This will ensure better monitoring of the salary levels paid to visa holders.


Four main measures
The bill addresses four main measures of worker protection which provide for:

  • Greater power to monitor and investigate non-compliance by sponsors.
  • Clearly laid out and defined sponsorship obligations for both employers and other sponsors.
  • Penalties (of up to $33 000) for employers who do not honour their obligations. Non-compliance may lead to suspension or cancellation of the employer’s approval as a sponsor.
  • Improved communication and information sharing across all levels of government.


Greater power for officials
Specially trained officers with increased power - similar to that of workplace inspectors under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 - will monitor workplaces and conduct site inspections to determine compliance with the redefined sponsorship obligations.


Clarity on regulations
Prescribed obligations will be specified in the regulations and will be decided upon in consultation with stakeholders. The regulations will include time frames within which obligations must be met and exact parameters for each obligation. The bill marks the start of a new system where obligations will be imposed by operation of law.


Higher minimum salary levels
Ahead of the introduction of the new bill, the government raised minimum salary levels for overseas workers by 3.8 percent ending a two-year freeze on these salaries. $19.6 million out of the 2008-09 budget has also been set aside to improve the processing and compliance of the temporary skilled migration programme.


Other initiatives
In another government initiative to improve conditions for 457 visa workers, industrial relations commissioner, Barbara Deegan was appointed to conduct a broad review of the programme. Her findings will be used to develop longer-term reforms to the 457-visa programme that will be brought forward in the 2009 budget.

 
 

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