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New laws to protect overseas workers pass Parliament.

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Senator Chris Evans Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

New laws to protect overseas workers pass Parliament

Thursday 4 December 2008

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, today welcomed the passage through Parliament with bipartisan support of new laws to better protect temporary overseas workers in Australia.

The Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Bill 2008 was introduced after extensive consultation with industry and unions to strengthen the integrity of temporary working visa arrangements including the subclass 457 visa program.

The subclass 457 visa program is an uncapped scheme driven by labour market demand which enables employers to sponsor overseas workers to fill nominated skilled positions in Australia for up to four years.

Almost 60 000 primary visas were granted to overseas workers in 2007-08 and while the vast majority of employers did the right thing, there have been concerns about the incidence of employer breaches in the program.

A total of 192 sponsors were formally sanctioned and a further 1353 employers were formally warned in 2007-08. This compares with 95 sanctions and 313 formal warnings issued in 2006-07.

The new laws will enable specially trained officers with investigative powers to monitor workplaces and conduct site visits to determine whether employers are complying with the redefined sponsorship obligations. The powers will be similar to the powers of workplace inspectors under the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

Employers found in breach of the obligations in the Migration Regulations could be fined up to $33 000 and the department will retain the ability to cancel an employer’s approval as a sponsor or bar them from making further applications for overseas workers.

The new laws will also enable the Commissioner of Taxation to disclose tax information to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in order to ensure correct salary levels are being paid to visa holders.

The Government is consulting the Skilled Migration Consultative Panel, which comprises business and industry groups, state governments and unions, over the development of regulations setting out the obligations of employers of temporary overseas workers.

The recommendations of the recently released Deegan report into the integrity of the subclass 457 visa program will inform development of the employers’ sponsorship obligations.