Unions right to attack rorted backpacker visa scheme

By Leith van Onselen

Farmers and tourism operators have hit back at the union movement for lobbying to restrict access to working holiday maker visas, claiming it would decimate regional economies.  From The Daily Telegraph:

Government analysis reveals the Australian Council of Trade Unions push to scrap the second year of the program would send 36,000 backpackers who farmers desperately need for harvest packing.

Working holiday makers spend on average $10,000 — abandoning the second year option would rip $360 million from Australia’s tourism industry particularly in regional areas where backpackers are forced to work…

Senator Birmingham said Labor had once again proven it was beholden to its union masters…

Agriculture assistant minister Richard Colbeck said the Morrison government was committed to expanding the program unlike Labor…

Australian Chamber of Commerce tourism executive chair John Hart said backpackers were a vital source of tourism revenue particularly in the regions.

More from the Herald-Sun:

Tourism & Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said Australia faced a “significant” skills shortage across a range of occupations and the sector was particularly crying out for skilled workers to help plug the gaps…

Late last year, a group of academics – Joanna Howe, Alex Reilly, Stephen Clibborn, Diane van den Broek & Chris F Wright – jointly penned an article in Fairfax claiming that the exploitation of temporary migrant workers increased in the wake of visa reforms in 2005 which allowed backpackers to extend their visa for a second year:

Australia already has more backpackers, and relies more strongly on them for horticultural work, than any country. Since 2005, working holiday visa holders can extend their visa for a second year if they work for 88 days in a specified regional industry…

The visa extension makes backpackers dependent on employers – a recipe for exploitation. And it fails to oblige employers to protect against exploitation…

Fair Work Ombudsman report found that the 88-day requirement created a “cultural mindset amongst many employers” where they consider hiring backpackers wanting a visa extension “a licence to determine the status, conditions and remuneration levels of workers … without reference to Australian workplace laws”.

Unlike agricultural visas in New Zealand, Canada and the United States, and unlike Australia’s own Pacific seasonal worker program, there is no pre-approval of employers. Nor is there systematic ongoing regulation to ensure compliance with workplace laws…

Story after story after story have exposed exploitation on farms…

Several major studies have also found that backpackers are ripe for exploitation.

In 2016, the Fair Work Ombudsman undertook an inquiry into Australia’s backpacker visa scheme, which noted that “many backpackers are being subjected to underpayment or non-payment, unlawful deductions, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and other forms of exploitation”.

The Senate’s scathing report, entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, also documented the abuses of Australia’s Working Holiday Maker visas system, which was “consistently reported to suffer widespread exploitation in the Australian workforce”.

Whereas the 2017 National Temporary Migrant Work Survey found that one in every seven temporary migrant fruit and vegetable pickers were paid $5 an hour or less, and a third earned $10 an hour or less.

At present, there is no labour marking testing before farmers can hire a backpacker. Current backpacker visa arrangements also require no preference whatsoever for local workers.

Given the documented abuses, the unions are well justified in seeking to curb the abuse of the working holiday maker visa scheme.

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  1. Dedicated to @triage.
    Maybe he will get the maths this time.

    Of the 148,000 working holiday visas in the country on average over the year (it goes up & down) , less than 40,000 applied for a regional / rural work extension (3 months)
    If they ever did regional or remote work – they would apply as it gives them a very valuable long visa extension.

    So that shows how low the actual regional & rural deployment actually is.

    The statistic means that only 10,000 FTE yearly (3 months / 4) or only 6.5% of 148,000 backpackers in a person year view actually worked in regional or remote areas.*
    Or 95.5% do not.
    They are in the cities, many working illegally cash in hand or in vice work as well as any legal work.

    The regional & rural work backpacker ‘work’ is massively rorted.
    The migrant traffickers & agents organise labor syndicates pay a bribe or cut to the farmer or regional employer to get the visa extension.

    The Asian, Indian & mostly Eurotrash on these visas then pay $4,000 plus to the agent & farmer or small business regional employer for ‘make work’ – live in a doss house hostel & go thru the motions of pretend make work.
    The farmer will often have a spare paddock or part of the orchard set aside for ‘backpackers’ where they do nonsense tasks & the farmer gets a cut of the cash .
    The small business regional employer will often demand a cash back cut from the backpacker as well as taking the bribe from via the agent fees paid.

    It’s a racket like the rest of the widespread visa abuse.
    Easily checked in any google search.
    Witnesses, backpacker forums, investigations, agents advising migrants how to the system. Rackets & fees. Labor rings, farmers taking bribes, false statements of doing rural work for payments.

    We don’t have employment in regional & rural areas.
    We have up to 40% youth unemployment in some areas.
    The farmers & small business in regional & renote areas are all in on the scam.
    Don’t hire local youth and take the bribes & cash back from backpackers seeking the visa extension via the 3 month rural work nonsense.

    Evidence abounds of surrogates sent or bribes paid to falsify work records while the ‘backpacker’ is still working in the 711 or in a brothel in the city.

    Just another example of our broken border controls and visa system.

    • Failed Baby BoomerMEMBER

      Mike, thanks once again. I wish your comments were more widely reported. As I have said before, even if they are just partially correct, they are truly shocking!

      • Understated.
        Be good for some people on this forum to see the real Australia – 1 in 9 people a non resident migrant guestworker (2.4 million TR plus another 440k on tourist visas (5% of 8.8 million tourist arrivals) on a visa pretext & 1.4 million at least working illegally.

        2.8 million permanent (nz scv/very long stay, long stay TR & other non resident migrant guestworkers.

        1.3 million in Sydney. 1 in 4 people.
        1.1 million in Melbourne. 1 in 5 people.
        400k elsewhere in mini me migrant slums.

        These are not the 1.9 million migrant PR or citizen grants we took into Australia in the last decade.

        These are in ADDITION to that – temporary non residents, mostly third world, mostly unskilled and mostly on a visa pretext.

        It would be beneficial to many in this forum to see the vast squalid migrant enclave slums of Sydney.

        Lakemba, Auburn, Granville, North Parramatta, Cabramatta, Blacktown, Burwood, Strathfield, Bankstown, Rhodes, Broadway, Zetland, Mascot.
        To name a few. A vast ugly high density swathe of squalor, congestion and grime stretching west to south across the Sydney basin.

        Where do people think 1.3 million non resident migrant guestworkers all live & how ?

        Clearly it’s not something you see in say a leafy middle class suburb in Brisbane as some members here pontificate their academic views on immigration intake.

        And that’s fair enough – the only ghetto they have ever seen is in a foreign country / out of the taxi window / on the way to the airport.

        Well we have migrant slums in Sydney that now beat anything they can see overseas.
        Come have a look.

    • Yeah, i don’t see the point in the year extension system. It should just revert to being a reflective policy based on foreign nations own backpacker/holiday visa policies and drop all pretense of providing rural communities with employment. I.e. Brits get two years up front like we do over there, people from the US get one, Germany 6 months, etc.

      There is no visa system you could propose to siphon immigrant labour to farms that would not involve mass exploitation.

      That said, anecdotally, I’ve met/worked with a lot of backpackers who have done actual farm work to stay longer.

  2. It occurred to me that the one segment of the Australian economy that has an almost 100% skills shortage is the one pushing the idea of a skills shortage in every other area of the economy while claiming they have no shortage.
    There is a major skills shortage in the house of reps and possibly also the senate, almost none of the members of these houses have any relevant skills, and based on the number of dual citizenships that have been uncovered even more ironically a lot of them seem to be migrants themselves….

    • Skill shortage? In order to be an effective pollie these days being corrupt is the key requirement.

      Most of ours would score an ‘A’ in the “Corruption & Moral Bankruptcy” category.

      • Of Course, But corruption is not in the list of skills they need to perform their job according to the stated job specifications……

  3. The union fallacy according to Jacob:

    A psychopath killed kangaroos and another killed penguins. Nobody says “the kangaroos should have been union members”. But some say union membership is the best solution for our species.

    Will the unions simply not ask for a big pay rise every year? The Rail, Tram and Bus Union decided that a strike should take place in NSW on 25 Jan 2018.

    From 16 October to 8 December 1950 Victorian members of the Australian Railways Union (ARU) and the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (AFULE) stopped work. This was the longest railway strike in Victorian history.


    The miners’ strike began on 5 March 1984 and lasted until 3 March 1985.

    Many homes and businesses will be without electricity for up to nine hours a day from today, the Central Electricity Generating Board has announced.

    Perhaps there is an alternative to unions. Raise the minimum wage to $30/hour and if you want any more, negotiate with your boss. Alternatively, abolish the minimum wage and put in a UBI that goes up every election cycle. If private sector unions are given enough power, they will probably demand that every union member be paid $75k/year. Such salaries may be ok in the public sector because it is simply a tax – but I disagree that someone in an entry level position in the private sector should be paid $75k/year just because he has been in the job for 15 years.

    • It’s a great life if you’re a union member — you get protections that those outside do not, and, in most instances, you get to earn a wage that is vastly above what you’d likely be able to earn in a free market.

      It’s good to be king.

  4. Couple of links – there are hundreds esp In the backpacker forums.
    2018 recent. Concerned citizen.
    “When I was working in a hostel bar in Darwin, I interacted with literally hundreds of backpackers. I began to notice a theme, people would brag that they got their second year visa without doing their farm or regional work, or only doing a portion of it. Some told me they paid farmers to fabricate their work. Some said they just made it up or lied about how much work they did when they filed the application. Some said they used the information from friends or fellow backpackers when filing out the application. None of them seemed concerned with admitting to fraud”

    Being going on for a decade of more.
    SMH way back in 2009.
    “A SPECIALIST integrity unit has been formed inside the “Department of Immigration to deal with widespread fraud in the working holiday visa program, on which industries such as fruit growing depend.”

    “More than 200 internet advertisements have been found offering to buy or sell documents allowing backpackers to claim they had worked in rural jobs without them leaving Sydney, and thus extend their working holiday visas. The standard fee is $400”

    Price now is up to $2k bribe for engish speaking & $2-$4K for non English speaking for the much longer duration visas. Split between the agent, labor ring & farmer in make work or to sign off the false declaration.

      • Time with backpackers..
        That’s the range for an UK (or Irish using 2 passports in English or Gaelic) and yes it’s full of British petty criminals & bottom layer out here for a lurk / no tax.

        The non English speaking pay more as it’s cash back (usually to a ethnically aligned migrant run small business in what’s regional & remote – includes whole states btw)

        Or the rural employer & farmer bribes, with registration & more inspection the farmer : Labor ring & ABN services rackets are more sophisticated and more bribe money needed.

  5. I agree with your line of argument here Leith. +1.

    Coincidentally or not 2005 was about the time that the then Department of Immigration decided to get Indian based migration and education agents involved in assessing the bonafides of applications for student visas. Abul Rizvi was in charge of the changes to both student and working holiday visa programs. He was also in charge of abdicating skills assessments to inherently conflicted organisations like CPA Australia and financial assessments to public servants in state governments. If he is to come back to run the immigration program under the Labor government hopefully he has had his damascus moment and now appreciates the folly of his past ways.

      • Thanks for that link, Buzz. Abul had the reputation of always being able to sell a story, could make particularly complex issues – and most issues in immigration are complex – seem understandable. Apparently he had rockstar status when it came to Senate Estimates Committee hearings.

        Just in that short interview he has given the ALP the perfect angle to attack the Scummo government on immigration: conflicting signals / out of control visa system / almost a quarter of migrants now come in as visitors then change status / last year almost 28,000 foreigners in Australia applied for assylum. They can make the fight entirely about maladministration by Dutto and Scummo.

  6. There are over a million temporary residents. They are a big big factor in the crowding which is destroying Australia’s quality of life. The ALP is right to address the scams and rorts in this area.

    This is a good move by Labor and a further reason to throw this rotten and corrupt government out.

    • 2.4 million Temporary & other non Residents.
      🔹Visa Category Dec-2018.
      🔻Visa breach / working illegal est.
      Source DHA (dept home affairs / visasur)

      🔹Overstayers: 69,000, all work illegally 🔻40,000
      🔹Long Stay Visitor: 395,000. 40% illegally 🔻160,000
      🔹Bridging 197,000 explosion Given work rights!
      🔹Foreign Student (672,000) 575,000 on student visa & 97,000 on other visas. partial work rights & partners with full work rights. 75% work illegally 🔻504,000.
      🔹Working Holiday, 148,000 many illegally🔻60,000
      🔹Grad Temp 65,000 Partial rights / illegally 🔻20,000
      🔹Skilled Regional Prov 20,000 – fraud visa 🔻10,000
      🔹Other TR 70,000, wide abuse🔻40,000 work illegally
      🔹Empl Sponsored 152,000 (457 + TSS) visa fraud, cash back & fake wages. Partners as well. 🔻70,000
      🔹Temp ‘Partner’ 90,000 Work illegally 🔻45,000
      🔹NZ SCV 687,000. Have full work rights, over 230,000 non NZ Born Indian & Chinese via ba ck door
      🔹Bus Prov 28,000 Widespread visa fraud 🔻10,000

      Total migrant guestworkers 2,431,000
      Third world unskilled 2,100,000
      Fake visa pretext 1,600,000
      In Visa breach/work illegally 950,000

      Doesn’t include 8.8 million Tourists yearly of which an est 5% (ABF / DHA 2016 parliamentary submission) or 440,000 migrant tourist guestworkers also work illegally.

  7. This country has become one giant scam from top to bottom. From politicians selling out to mining or the Chinese or developers, to the education sector, to business rorting tax and underpaying, to banks giving out fraudulent loans, to developers cutting corners on materials and design, to immigrants rorting their fellow compatriots. It’s just become one big festering pot of greed and filth. Disgusting.

    • Perhaps, but by comparison to most of the world we are positively angelic. Not that we shouldn’t strive to be better. Perspective is useful in not getting too worked up though.

  8. Perhaps, but by comparison to most of the world we are positively angelic. Not that we shouldn’t strive to be better. Perspective is useful in not getting too worked up though.