The Government’s new skilled visa framework makes it easier for migrant workers to leave exploitative employers and provides clearer pathways to permanent residency, but to fight exploitation the restriction on hours worked by international students must be lifted, according to Unions NSW.
Dependency on employers to maintain migration status has been a primary driver of migrant exploitation, Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW said.
"Ensuring migrant workers can leave unscrupulous employers is a game changer. We routinely see migrant workers put their physical and mental health at risk because they are terrified that reporting their employers could result in them losing their migration status. This reform is a profound step forward.
“However, further change is needed. We will continue to push to lift the restriction on working hours for international students, and abolish the farm work requirement for working holiday makers, which have been key drivers of migrant worker exploitation.
“To continue restricting the number of hours international student can work ignores the cost-of-living crisis which is hitting temporary migrants hard. For example, we recently received a report of an international student residing in a tent in a living room for $300 a week. We also receive numerous accounts from backpackers being forced to pay exorbitant rental prices for substandard accommodation provided by their employers”.
“Additionally, there is abundant evidence of the exploitation experienced by backpackers on Australian farms. Workers are not just severely underpaid but frequently injured and sexually harassed. We urge the government to abolish the farm work requirements to protect those on working holiday visas”.
Visa Assist, a program supported by Unions NSW helps migrant workers who are reluctant to report abusive employers for fear of losing their job, having their visa cancelled and being deported.
The experience of Carlos, a worker who sought assistance from the program highlights the human impact.
Carlos arrived in Australia in 2004 on a student visa and was eventually sponsored by a hotel as a chef. He experienced severe workplace exploitation, including underpayment, bullying and harassment. The abuse escalated to the point where he was hospitalised and diagnosed with PTSD. Carlos felt trapped because he knew that he needed his employer to maintain his visa status. The new visa settings will empower workers experiencing situations like Carlos to speak out against their employer and facilitate the finding of new employment with fairer working conditions.
Nick Lucchinelli 0422 229 032