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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6445

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (09:37): The purpose of this bill is to propose a package of measures that are aimed at eliminating the illegitimate use of subclass 457 visa program and other temporary sponsored visa programs. Together with proposed amendments to the Migration Regulations 1994 and other policy changes announced in February 2013, this bill presents a comprehensive package of reforms that would balance the interests of Australian workers with the need to strengthen the protection of overseas workers, so we stop people being ripped off, being exploited. This false argument that we have heard in this parliament in the past few days on this bill, which does not give any concern for Australian workers—but one would not expect much else from the Liberal Party, the Work Choices party! One would not expect anything else from them: these false arguments being proposed, the attacks on the minister—all this false stuff.

Importantly this bill gives powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work inspectors, to monitor, investigate compliance with sponsorship obligations, and to ensure workers are working in their nominated occupation and being paid market salary rates. Well, what is wrong with that? There should not be anything wrong with that, but somehow it is wrong from the Liberal Party's point of view. We had a situation in northern Tasmania: a guy was sponsored into Australia to work in Queensland as a miner and he ended up working as a plasterer in Launceston when there were six or seven other plasterers walking around the streets looking for work. That sort of thing should not occur and there should be some monitoring of that. That is all this bill is asking.

There have been a number of cases recently, some of which have been reported in the press and some others anecdotally have come to my attention, that people have been employed on 457 visas, have been employed well below the award rates and have been made to work long hours without proper income. Only on Monday this week, a case was reported on the front page of the Launceston Examiner, and that was an underpayment of $88,000. So what we had there was someone using the legislation to employ people on lower rates. There is also the incidence where 457 visa holders are being employed, despite there being in an Australian, a Tasmanian, to undertake work that is being advertised. We have an unemployment rate in Tasmania of 7.3 per cent against a 5.6 per cent rate for the rest of the country.

This legislation will now require subclass 457 sponsors to undertake labour market testing in relation to a nominated occupation in a manner consistent with Australia's relevant international trade obligations to ensure that Australian citizens and permanent residents are given the first opportunities to apply for skilled vacancies in the domestic labour market. It is of concern that, at a time when the labour market has been flattening and some sectors and regions have experienced layoffs and increased unemployment, the subclass 457 program has continued to grow—and grow it has. In the last year, the number of primary 457 visa holders has risen by 20 per cent from 80,000 to 100,000, while employment growth has been just one per cent.

There are issues here that need to be dealt with and this bill deals with them. I have real concerns that some employers are turning to overseas workers first, rather than investing in local training and local recruitment—of course, that is a whole other area about training the Australian workforce. There have also been a growing number of low-skilled industries and occupations such as retail and hospitality, while in the IT industry growth in the use of 457 visa holders has been accompanied by lower than average wages, which is the opposite of what you would expect if there were some genuine skill shortages. You would not expect lower than average wages to apply. We have considerable evidence that some sponsors are paying overseas workers below the market rate, undercutting Australians, failing to commit to the training requirements of the program and using the visas fraudulently to help family and friends migrate.

The purpose of this bill is to propose a package of integrity measures that seek to enhance the government's ability to eliminate rorts in the subclass 457 visa program and of course other temporary sponsored visa programs. Together with proposed amendments to Migration Regulations 1994, this bill represents a comprehensive package of reforms which will balance the interests of Australian workers with the need to strengthen the protection of overseas workers. We do not want people coming here on 457 visas and being exploited—well, this side of the House does not.

This bill amends the Migration Regulations 1994 to extend the period from 28 days to 90 consecutive days, enabling a more socially just outcome for visa holders as they have more time to find other jobs and to arrange their personal affairs at the conclusion of their sponsored employment. It is felt that they need to complement the reforms to the migration regulations announced in February this year. The bill will enshrine in the Migration Act the kind of sponsorship obligations which must be made by the regulations. Employers must ensure equivalent terms and conditions of employment—including payment of a market salary rate—keep certain records and provide records and information to the department and cooperate with the inspectors. These new sponsorship obligations come into effect on 1 July of this year. The obligations need to meet training requirements for the term of sponsorship approval, with no transfer, charge or recovery of certain costs from sponsored visa holders, and restrict on-hiring arrangements. These will be spelled out in the Migration Regulations 1994 and are scheduled to come into effect on 1 July this year.

There is an enforcement framework to bar or cancel the approval of a person as a sponsor with an infringement notice and a civil penalty scheme, which would be enforceable in court. This amendment will allow the minister to publish enforcement undertakings on the department's website. This is an important tool to encourage compliance by all sponsors and is a means of providing transparency to the Australian public on the monitoring of sponsors. It will get a bit of transparency in there and will not let people rip people off without having their name exposed for doing it. There seems to be reluctance on the other side of the House to want that to happen.

Importantly, the bill gives power to the Fair Work Ombudsman to monitor and investigate compliance with sponsorship obligations to ensure workers are working in their nominated occupation and are being paid market salary rates. By doing so, the government's capacity to monitor sponsors will increase from 33 active inspectors to over 300 inspectors. The government has always said that the subclass 457 visa program, where used genuinely, plays an important role in supplying skilled labour, when such labour is unavailable in the local workforce. It is intended to allow employers to quickly supplement the Australian labour market.

These bills seek to realign the program to ensure that it is only used when genuine skills shortages exist, to ensure a balance between considering the interests of employers, the Australian domestic labour force, and strengthening protection for overseas workers. It is worth noting that there has been an increase in the visa application charge from $455 to $900, and as announced in the 2013-14 budget, consideration was also given to increasing the nomination fee for each 457 position from $85 to $330. It is really about getting that balance, and the balance is not right at the moment. People are being ripped off.

Australian workers are missing out on jobs that they should have access to. There are jobs that should be advertised better. We have had these debates about the mining industry as well. I think there should be a lot more transparency in the way jobs are advertised in Australia. I have had people say to me that they have every ticket under the sun, they have applied to many websites to get jobs in the mining industry in Australia, they are quite free to travel and to live in mining communities, yet they just do not have access and they get nothing back from applications put in through websites. So there is something happening in this country which is not working properly in the field, and then you have employers sponsoring people to come in from overseas. And then we have this total exploitation taking place, as I mentioned, which was run on the front page of the Tasmanian Examiner on Monday—not a paper which one would say was a Labor radical paper in any way but it certainly got into telling the story about somebody who was in the fast food business and was brought into Australia from China. That person is going to receive $90,000 in back pay as a result of underpayment. That is what the Fair Work Ombudsman's report claimed. The story goes on to highlight that the gentleman involved was made to sign false pay slips, was forced to work enormous amounts of hours as a cook and then had to put his name to false documentation. He did not have a lot of good English so it was very difficult for him to stand up to the exploitation, but inspectors were able to do that. I guess it is about having an inspector with time to do the work and to be able to talk to people about that. It was about being forced to sign documentation which was not true and was not a true reflection of what the proper case was. So here is a prime example in Tasmania of exploitation of a 457 visa person working there. I do not know, given the unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent, if there are any chefs or cooks in Tasmania looking for work but I think there probably are.

So I think there is a great deal of need for this bill to rectify some of the problems. It concerns me greatly that the party of Work Choices do not seem to think that this is a major issue in Australia. I believe it is and I believe it needs to be rectified. I believe that the minister responsible for this bill is endeavouring to do that so I ask the House to give full support to this bill.