7-Eleven corporate signage is seen in Melbourne, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. A joint Fairfax-Four Corners investigation found up to two-thirds of 7-Eleven stores could be underpaying workers.
7-Eleven corporate signage is seen in Melbourne, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. A joint Fairfax-Four Corners investigation found up to two-thirds of 7-Eleven stores could be underpaying workers. AAP Image - Julian Smith

Laws to prevent worker exploitation thrown into doubt

CHANGES proposed to help prevent the exploitation of workers on temporary visas will do no such thing, an inquiry was told yesterday.

The Productivity Commission inquiry recently released a draft report of its recommendations to the Federal Government.

At hearings about the report in Canberra, worker exploitation experts told the commission two key recommendations did not actually address problems affecting the workers.

The draft report recommended the Fair Work Ombudsman be given more resources to investigate migrant exploitation, and that employers could be fined for underpaying visa workers.

But the funds raised under the fine proposal would not go to the workers themselves, instead boosting the federal government's coffers.

Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia's chairman, Joe Caputo, said it was critical to protect, especially in the wake of reports of exploitation at 7-Eleven outlets.

The Salvation Army's Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery co-ordinator, Heather Moore, said their key concern was that the system was so focused on those "deliberately defrauding the system" it may be jeopardising the most vulnerable caught up in it.

"Labour and migration policy must be synchronised with anti-slavery policy," she said.

"Failure to address the vulnerabilities of migrant workers undermines Australia's commitments in its National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery."

Both groups urged the commission to recommend changes to improve compliance monitoring on the labour hire firms and employers, rather than workers.

They also told the inquiry workers who were trafficked into the country, or those significantly exploited, should be able to stay as long as it took them to pursue compensation for underpayment through Fair Work Australia.

The government has upped its compliance monitoring as part of a wider crackdown on worker exploitation, especially among 457 and 417 visa holders in recent months. The commission will release a final report on workplace relations issues in November.


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