Federal Government announces critical reform to end migrant worker exploitation


Marrickville Legal Centre welcomes the Federal Government’s announcement of a proposed law reform package to tackle migrant worker exploitation in Australia. The new measures announced will target unscrupulous employers and enable exploited migrant workers to speak up and enforce their labour rights without fear of immigration consequences.  

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles describes the situation as “a crisis of exploitation”, as up to 16 per cent of recent migrants are paid below the national minimum wage, according to the Grattan Institute’s recent report.1 

The Federal Government is committing to a number of protections for migrant workers including: 

  1. Piloting a short-term visa for migrant workers to stay to pursue wage claims or participate in a labour enforcement investigation; 
  2. Introducing legislated protection against visa cancellation for visa holders who speak out against an exploitative employer but have breached their visa conditions; 
  3. Allowing employer-sponsored workers to leave their sponsor and remain in Australia for 6 months with work rights while finding a new sponsor;  
  4. Introducing flexible application of visa criteria where migrant workers who are dependent on an employer for a future visa have experienced exploitation;  
  5. Abolishing the criminal offence of working in breach of, or without, a visa and clarify the Migration Act does not affect workplace protections. This means all workers, including undocumented workers, are entitled to workplace protections regardless of immigration status. 

Marrickville Legal Centre recognises that the ongoing exploitation of migrant workers in Australia over the past decades is widespread and systemic. We have been assisting temporary visa holders and new migrants with their employment law problems for years.  Despite having a legal claim, many of our clients choose not to pursue their claims because of their visa status.  

“These long overdue changes will significantly reduce exploitative behaviour and improve working conditions for temporary migrant workers as the barriers deterring migrant workers from speaking up are lifted,” says MLC Managing Principal Solicitor, Vasili Maroulis. 

“There is still significant work ahead of us and MLC will continue to advocate for and work with migrant communities to raise awareness of worker rights and empower migrant workers to enforce those rights.” 

Media enquiries: Tu Le tle@mlc.org.au