The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has announced that it will vote on whether to support a new motion that would remove the 40-hour work restriction for international students.
If successful, a future Labor government would also prevent the sharing of information between the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and the Department of Home Affairs, pertaining to international students who report the underpayment of wages.
The resolution—which was put forward by Unions NSW—would see the current 40-hour a fortnight work limitation for international students replaced with tough new requirements for course attendance and completion.
There have also been calls for the removal of the 88-day regional work placement requirement for backpacker visa holders, which they claim has been instrumental in driving the “exploitation and underpayment” of temporary foreign workers.
The move comes after reports from community legal centers found that many migrant workers were reluctant to lodge a complaint about underpayment due to a fear of losing their work or study visa.
A recent audit of foreign job advertisements— in Spanish, Korean, Nepalese, Chinese, and Punjabi—by Unions NSW also found that 7 out of 10 positions offered pay rates below Australia’s legal award minimum.
The secretary for Unions NSW, Mark Morey, said that the findings should motivate the ALP to address the inconsistencies surrounding workplace and immigration law.
“Our system of contingent visas prevent some migrant workers enforcing the same labour rights as the rest of us,” Morey said.
“This has to change and it’s something only a Labor government can tackle. We need a deportation amnesty for people who report wage theft. We also need a firewall erected between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Immigration. That will send a powerful signal that complaining about exploitation won’t result in having your visa cancelled.”
While the FWO has previously offered amnesty to temporary foreign workers who inform on exploitative employers, FOI documentation seems to confirm that the Ombudsman has an informal “non-binding” agreement with the Department of Home Affairs.
“Our FOI has shown the agreement between the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Immigration Department can not be enforced. Migrant workers need an iron clad guarantee that when they report wage theft, they won’t get deported,” Morey said.
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