Recent media reports have highlighted shocking instances of foreign worker exploitation in various Australian industries, particularly in relation to labour hire companies.
The ABC reported a Victorian man, operating as a labour hire business, was under investigation over allegations he had exploited migrant farm workers. Workers were allegedly paid as little as 60 cents an hour for 22-hour working days.
ABC reports also detailed instances of migrant workers being subjected to human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, intimidation and sexual assault.
Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit director Dr Mark Zirnsak said these issues spread across many industries and often involve unscrupulous labour hire practices.
“Human trafficking and forced labour occurs in industries such as construction, hospitality, the meat industry, manufacturing and people working as live-in house keepers,” he said.
“Often at the heart of the problem are labour hire companies.
“These are businesses, in some cases just a person with a mobile phone and a bank account, that organise for people to come to Australia and place them in jobs.
“However, some labour hire companies are criminal enterprises, intimidating those they bring here to accept low pay. These criminal enterprises steal wages, provide them with substandard accommodation for exorbitant fees and seek sexual favours from female migrants.”
Australian labour hire businesses are currently largely unregulated.
The Australian Institute of Criminology has assessed that exploitation of migrant workers in Australia can be “characterised as low-risk, high-profit activities”. Many migrant workers often only report issues as a last resort, when they cannot remain in the situation due to serious injury or fear for their personal safety.
In October the Federal Government announced the Ministerial Working Group Protecting Vulnerable Visa Holders to consider options to protect people from exploitation.
The group, chaired by Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash, will include the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Justice Michael Keenan MP and Small Business Minister and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer MP.
The JIM unit has produced a postcard and letter-writing action for church members to ask the Federal Government to introduce a licencing system for labour hire companies.
The letter-writing action also calls on the government to allow migrant workers who have been exploited to stay in Australia while they pursue legal action against former employers.
Copies of the letter-writing action can be obtained by calling (03) 9251 5271 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.