As noted by Stefanie Balog in the Australian Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash will unveil the government’s latest weapon to tackle visa fraud as part of its efforts to increase integrity and compliance in Australia’s temporary worker programs.
“Organised criminal networks and unscrupulous labour hire contractors seeking to profit by ripping employees off, and illegal workers ripping off the taxpayer by working in breach of visa conditions should be under no illusion; we are targeting you,’’ a spokesman for Senator Cash told The Australian.
The establishment of the dedicated taskforce is being announced today ahead of the start of a Labor-Greens controlled Senate inquiry into the impact of Australia’s temporary work visa program — including skilled 457 visas and working holiday visas — on the labour market and visa holders. Woolworths, the National Union of Workers and the Fair Work Ombudsman will be the first to appear today at the hearing in Melbourne.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has questioned whether the motives of the inquiry are political, saying in its submission “the fact that not one of the terms of reference seeks to explore the positive benefits of the temporary work visa program reinforces the perception of its purpose’’.
ACCI also takes issue with the timing, expressing its concern that the inquiry is being held so soon after a number of hearings into 457 visas and other temporary work visas and before any of the changes or recommendations have been implemented.
Trade unions and employers are divided over the merits of temporary worker programs. Unions argue that skilled and unskilled schemes for overseas work are used to undermine Australian wages and conditions, a claim employers reject.
The ABC’s Four Corners program aired allegations earlier this month that some overseas workers employed by labour hire contractors in the seasonal fruit and vegetable picking industries were being underpaid, missed out on entitlements and subjected to substandard conditions.
The Coalition says while the vast majority of employers do the right thing, it has a responsibility to address instances where workers’ rights are compromised and it is running several targeted compliance activities across its departments. The new taskforce will add a further layer of investigation and enforcement.
Senator Cash’s spokesman said visa fraud and the exploitation of workers were serious offences and Immigration and Border Protection was “working proactively’’ to “stamp them out’’. One priority of the new Australian Border Force agency, which starts on July 1, will be to target and disrupt visa fraud.
The spokesman said in the lead-up to establishing the agency, the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio had significantly enhanced its investigative abilities: “Today, we can announce that this investigative ability will be further enhanced with the establishment of a dedicated taskforce to investigate recent allegations of visa fraud.”
“In the near future, we will be working with the Fair Work Ombudsman and other regulatory agencies to join them into the taskforce to ensure that matters involving visa fraud and worker conditions and entitlements are investigated swiftly.”
He said targeting and disrupting people and entities seeking to commit visa fraud in Australia would be a high priority for ABF investigators, and the key focus of the taskforce being established.
Anyone who knowingly or recklessly uses illegal workers faces fines up to $20,400 and/or two years in jail per illegal worker. Companies face fines up to $102,000 per illegal worker. Civil penalties and criminal offences are also possible.
The Immigration Department is investigating the employment of 417 visa holders by on-hire labour firms and the Fair Work Ombudsman has already dealt with 6000 requests for assistance from visa-holders, recovered more than $4 million in outstanding wages and entitlements, and provided advice and assistance to more than 5000 overseas workers and visa-holders who have called the Fair Work Infoline.