Labour hire firms in Australia face being licenced should a key recommendation of a Senate inquiry into foreign worker visas be introduced. A recently published, 373-page Senate committee report says that labour hire companies, with strong links to South East Asia, had been subjecting illegal workers to 'slave-like' working conditions.
However Coalition committee members objected to a number of the key recommendations made, meaning that most of the suggested changes are unlikely to occur.
Sanwar Ali, Editor of workpermit.com News had the following comments to make:
It is surely going to be difficult to persuade sufficient numbers of Australians to do jobs such as fruit picking, etc, Many Australians do not wish to do this sort of work. That is why you need overseas workers It is also surely one of the intentions of the working holidaymaker scheme to provide employers with access to cheap labour from outside Australia. It is not reasonable to then complain that this visa scheme provides "cheap overseas workers" one of the intended purposes of the scheme.
Australian 457 work visa and working holidaymaker visa criticised
The Senate committee's report – titled 'A National Disgrace' investigated a range of temporary foreign worker visas available to foreigners such as working holidaymaker visas, 457 skilled worker visas and student visas. The committee said that there was no apparent strategy for tackling labour shortages in the agricultural sector.
The report stated that 'regional and rural locations across Australia faced chronic labour shortages that have not been properly addressed.' There was a "substantial body of evidence that showed blatant and pervasive abuse of the working holidaymaker visa program by a network of labour hire companies," read an excerpt from the report.
According to the report, the labour hire firms involved in the apparent exploitation of foreign workers had strong links with companies in South East Asian nations. It's understood that the labour hire firms were supplying Australia's horticulture and meat processing industries with "cheap labour".
"The bulk of the evidence showed that the working holidaymaker visa program has been abused by unscrupulous labour hire companies," the report said. The Senate committee reported how labour hire firms, plus a minority of employers, are using 417 working holiday visas to find cheap labour to deal with labour shortages.
Regional meat processing firms criticised
The Senate committee was especially critical of some of Australia's regional meat processing companies, which in its view has taken to using working holidaymaker visa holders at the expense of local Australian workers who have to endure high unemployment levels.
Some of the Senate committee's recommendations are as follows:
- Implement a licencing scheme for labour hire contractors.
- An independent review of the resources and powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
- Protection for overseas workers, who were potential victims of people trafficking and slavery-like conditions, and tougher legislation to prosecute employers if they breached employment laws. This would be the case whether or not the employee were working illegally in Australia.
- A review of the working holidaymaker visa program. One of the things they will look at are more caps on the number of visas issued. There are already caps on some of the working holiday visa schemes.
Sarah McKinnon, a spokeswoman for the National Farmers' Federation said: "The inquiry was a missed opportunity, with no recommendations to help the agricultural sector. The issue had become a political battlefield. Agriculture is unique in its reliance on economic migrants."
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