Release type: Media Release


Coalition delivers on election commitment to protect migrant workers


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment
Minister for Women
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
Senator for Western Australia

The Turnbull Government is today delivering on a key election commitment to ensure migrant workers in Australia are protected from exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Professor Allan Fels AO will lead a new Migrant Workers Taskforce which will provide expert advice on measures that will deliver better protections for overseas workers.

Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash said the Taskforce will bolster the Government’s efforts to crack down on employers seeking to take advantage of migrant workers and deliver better protections for all workers.

"A number of recent high-profile cases where vulnerable migrant workers have been underpaid and exploited at work have exposed unacceptable gaps in the system," Minister Cash said.

"While the Government acknowledges that the majority of employers do the right thing by their employees, we will not tolerate exploitation in Australian workplaces."

The exploitation of migrant workers affects a range of industries, and in recent cases it has become clear that some employers have blatantly ignored their responsibilities under Australian law.

Revelations of exploitation within some 7-ELEVEN franchises has highlighted the need for further protections for workers and higher penalties for those found to have breached workplace laws.

The Taskforce will monitor progress of 7-ELEVEN in rectifying its breaches but will also be tasked with identifying regulatory and compliance weaknesses that have led to such incidences of widespread exploitation.

Minister Cash said she is pleased the Taskforce will be chaired by Professor Allan Fels AO, with Dr David Cousins AM as Deputy Chair for an 18-month term.

"Professor Fels’ experience in this area will be a valuable asset to the Taskforce, which is tasked with developing strategies across government to stamp out exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers," Minister Cash said.

"The Taskforce will support effective ongoing collaboration between agencies to ensure that efforts to stamp out exploitation take a whole-of-government approach."

"Migrant workers make a vital contribution to Australia and we have a responsibility to ensure they continue to see Australia as an attractive place to study, visit and work."

"We know that overseas workers are potentially more susceptible to exploitive practices, which is why we must introduce stronger measures to maintain the integrity of their working experience in Australia."

In 2015 the Government established the inter-agency Taskforce Cadena to investigate illegal practices in temporary visa programmes, including labour hire companies.

Last year the Government also established the Ministerial Working Group on Protecting Vulnerable Visa Holders to develop strategies to protect vulnerable migrant workers in Australia. Following this, the Government made an election commitment to further protect vulnerable workers.

The Migrant Worker Taskforce delivers on a critical part of this election commitment. Other measures include:

  • Increasing penalties that apply to employers who underpay workers and who fail to keep proper employment records. A new higher penalty category of ‘serious contraventions’ will be introduced, and will apply to any employer that has intentionally ripped off workers, regardless of the employer’s size.
  • Introducing new provisions that capture franchisors who fail to deal with exploitation by their franchisees.
  • Delivering a $20 million funding increase for the capabilities and workforce of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
  • Strengthening the powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman so that it can more effectively deal with employers who intentionally exploit workers by compelling them to produce information and answer questions.

The Terms of Reference for the Migrant Workers Taskforce are attached.