The Victorian Government will introduce tough new laws—making the state the strictest in Australia—to stamp out the exploitation of vulnerable workers in the labour-hire industry.
The legislative overhaul will take place later this year, and involve the introduction of a state-based listening scheme for labour-hire industries, as well as significantly stiffer penalties for the exploitation of foreign workers.
A state commissioner will also be appointed as part of the sweeping reforms, who will have the power to raid Victorian businesses and launch criminal prosecutions as a means of combating rogue labour-hire firms and other unscrupulous operators.
The decision has been lauded by the state unions, however it will likely receive significant pushback from local business groups, along with potentially pushing the exploitation of workers into exclusively rural areas.
The move has come in response the widespread growth of exploitation in the Farming Industry, with Victoria’s food bowl currently said to be employing thousands of illegal Malaysian workers. These foreign nationals are primarily contracted to farms via labour-hire syndicates, and supply some of Australia’s largest supermarket chains.
Under the new laws a statutory agency will be developed—headed by a commissioner—which will oversee a licensing scheme that is intended to help regulate the industry, with those failing who fail to pass a “fit and proper” character test being banned from operating labour-hire firms.
Companies that are found to be breaching immigration or labour laws will similarly have their license revoked and potentially face civil or even criminal charges.
The Victorian Industrial Relations Minister, Natalie Hutchins, has issued a statement about the legislative changes, saying that the scheme “will bring some much needed transparency to the labour-hire industry.”
“Businesses will need to show they treat their workers fairly and become licensed or face hefty penalties,” Hutchins said.
The new scheme also has the support of the National Farmers Federation (NFF), which has previously called for the introduction of a similar licensing scheme. However, the NFF has warned that a state-based scheme may be unwieldy, cumbersome, and only lead to further bureaucratic red-tape for struggling farmers.
Despite these potential pitfalls, the National Union of Workers still thinks the scheme has merit, with the Victorian Branch Secretary, Gary Maas, saying that the reforms would help to reduce the “misery” experienced by illegal foreign workers.
“We welcome the key elements of the legislation – universal coverage, a fit and proper persons test on owners/directors, an independent Statutory Authority with Right of Entry and compliance powers, and civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance,” Maas said.
The Federal Government has also said that it will introduce a Modern Slavery Act, which will require large companies to undergo a public audit of their supply chain to prevent worker exploitation.
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, was also supportive of the Victorian Government’s labour-hire licensing plan, characterising the changes as an important step in the fight to stamp out the exploitation of foreign national workers.
“These changes are well overdue and welcomed by Absolute Immigration,” Lingham said.
“We are seeing a greater push by the government in relation to the exploitation of overseas foreign nationals, and believe that the end user—being the employer—should also shoulder some of the blame for this exploitation if they do not ask the right questions when engaging prospective foreign workers, especially when this comes at a minimal cost to them.”
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