The Federal Government has released a draft of the Migration Amendment Bill 2021 that proposes new criminal offences and civil penalties to further protect migrant workers from exploitation.
Immigration and migrant services minister, Alex Hawke, said the proposed Bill – released on Monday for public consultation – sent a strong message that wage underpayment and other exploitative practices against migrant workers are unacceptable and will not be tolerated in Australia.
“This legislation is timely as we work on economic recovery from Covid-19. We want to ensure Australia maintains a strong reputation as a destination of choice for working holidaymakers, students and skilled migrants,” the minister stated.
The new bill incorporates recommendations from the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce and proposes a number of new offences designed to prevent an employer from using migration laws to coerce migrant workers.
Offence to exert undue pressure on migrant workers
Under the latest proposals, it will be an offence to “coerce or exert undue influence or pressure” on migrant workers to accept work arrangements that breach work-related visa conditions.
It will also be an offence for a person to coerce, influence or pressure migrant workers to accept work arrangements to satisfy a work-related visa requirement, or to avoid an adverse effect on their immigration status.
Hawke said the legislation would introduce other important measures to enhance protection for migrant workers.
These include prohibiting employers who have breached certain provisions in theMigration Act or Fair Work Actfrom employing additional non-citizen for a specified period of time.
It will also increase civil penalties for breaches of work-related provisions in the Migration Act.
Some employers will find ways to exploit migrants
“We know the majority of Australian businesses and employers do the right thing, but there are still a small number of unscrupulous employers who find ways to exploit migrants,” Hawke warned.
In addition to the measures proposed in the Bill, the Federal Government has also made regulatory changes to enhance the safety and welfare of working holiday makers in Australia, and to discourage them from working for employers with a track record of misconduct.
“The Department of Home Affairs will implement enhanced communication channels to allow visa holders to easily check the status of their employer,” a statement from the minister’s office said.
“A specified business will be provided a right of reply before listing them in a legislative instrument.”