After years of systemic wage theft from migrant workers, the Migrant Workers Centre has demanded major changes to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program to better protect vulnerable people on the visa:
The exploitation of backpackers on working holiday visas is rife and demands an urgent overhaul of the migration scheme, a parliamentary inquiry has been warned…
The Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) used its latest committee hearing on Wednesday to issue a plea for reforms to the program to more strongly protect migrants on the scheme…
MWC director Matt Kunkel said program failures have led to widespread mistreatment of working holiday makers by employers and labour hire firms.
“The country needs to urgently address the structural vulnerability of working holiday makers by reforming this visa system,” he told the committee.
“The fundamental shortcomings of this visa class … both disadvantage workers and provide fertile ground for unscrupulous employers to exploit those workers”…
The MWC’s recommendations include scrapping a six-month restriction that prevents backpackers from staying on longer with an employer…
The MWC also wants criminal sanctions for serious wage theft, with extra penalties for breaches disproportionately affecting temporary migrant workers.
It also wants to end the requirement of regional work for working holiday makers to extend visas for a second or third year.
It’s like Groundhog Day.
Recall that in 2016 the Fair Work Ombudsman completed an inquiry into Australia’s backpacker visa scheme, which found 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 report, entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, documented widespread abuse of Australia’s Working Holiday Maker visa program, which was “consistently reported to suffer widespread exploitation in the Australian workforce”.
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 $10 an hour or less.
In 2018, a group of academics jointly penned an article in Fairfax claiming that exploitation of temporary migrant farm workers is rife:
Australia already has more backpackers, and relies more strongly on them for horticultural work, than any country…
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…
The fact of the matter is that it has been five years since the 7-Eleven migrant worker scandal first broke, and since then there has been a never-ending flow of stories emerging about the systemic abuse of Australia’s various migrant worker programs and visa system.
Indeed, the Migrant Workers Taskforce’s 141-page report, released in March 2019, found that “wage underpayment is widespread and has become more entrenched over time”, with as many as half of all migrant workers exploited.
The reality is that you cannot run mass immigration into an economy with a large output gap (that is, too much supply) without wage theft happening. No amount of policing from an under-resourced FWO will prevent it. There are too many scams and they are everywhere, driven by a permanent labour force supply shock as cheap foreign bodies endlessly flow in. This is made worse by the importation of unscrupulous practices from foreign lands, with migrant business owners typically exploiting migrant staff of the same nationality.
Wage theft is not a quirk of the system, it is the system. And if the Morrison Government is allowed to reboot mass immigration into vast post-COVID economic slack then it will intensify beyond belief.
If you want to stop the wage theft and falling wages then stop mass immigration. Cut foreign students (by lifting entry standards and financial capacity). Cut temporary workers. And halve the permanent migrant intake to 80,000 targeted at critical (highly paid) skills only.
Failing to do so will only lead to more of the same, with endless hand wringing over stolen wages and exploitation.