House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023; Second Reading

4:23 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

I am proud to stand today and speak in favour of this bill, the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023. I'd like to be clear from the outset that migrant worker exploitation in this country is a crisis, and it's completely unacceptable. We heard the member for Macquarie go through the most recent statistics about exploitation of migrant workers, and I thank her for bringing those statistics to the attention of this House. One in six recent migrants are paid less than the minimum wage. You don't have to stretch the imagination too hard to grasp how difficult that would be for people who uproot their entire lives and come from all sorts of circumstances for the chance of a new life in Australia only to be ripped off by their employer. We know that the consequences of exploitation mean being forced back to work, to work gruelling hours, or to put up with other forms of unacceptable workplace conduct, like bullying or even being injured at work.

The exploitation of migrant workers affects us all. It harms communities and it undermines employees' ability to bargain. In fact, as the Director of Labour Market Enforcement in the UK recently stated:

Exploitation of workers is not just an offence against the individual—which is serious enough. It also undermines the competitiveness of compliant businesses who treat their workers fairly and with consideration. Worker exploitation can also have a destabilising impact on whole communities.

Exploitation does not happen necessarily behind closed doors. It does not happen quietly or by accident. It's happening to workers that we interact with every day, commonly in hospitality or accommodation services, but even more broadly, in my experience, in areas like aged care, in health facilities and even in manufacturing. And I want to especially highlight that it was people on visas who were delivering essential services during the pandemic—stacking shelves, caring for the vulnerable, staffing our hospitals. But they're scared to speak out when they're unpaid, underpaid or mistreated and this has to end.

To make matters worse, due to a decade of inaction and ineptitude by the coalition government, this kind of practice has become commonplace. You could almost call the exploitation of migrant workers the Liberal-National business model. Not only did they systematically deconstruct our migration system, they nodded and smiled and agreed with expert advice and then failed to act.


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