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02 Aug 2023

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Urgent action needed to close loopholes and protect temporary migrant workers

Harrowing stories of temporary migrant exploitation detailed in a report released today highlight the need for urgent action to protect temporary migrant workers, according to migrant and refugee services providers Settlement Services International (SSI).

The report, Not Just Numbers: A Blueprint of Visa Protections for Temporary Migrant Workers, was developed by the Migrant Workers Centre, Unions NSW, the Human Rights Law Centre, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, and Migrant Justice Institute, and details wide-spread exploitation of workers, with employers using current loopholes to enforce exploitative conditions on workers on temporary visas.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said this corroborated SSI’s own anecdotal reports, ranging from manipulative contractual practices that result in workers being underpaid – ‘wage theft’ – through to forced labour or withholding a visa holder’s passport.

“No single person should control both your passport and your paycheck – it’s a recipe for exploitation,” she said.

“Ending migrant worker exploitation is important, first and foremost, to prevent the suffering of those workers and to uphold their rights. But protecting migrant workers is also critical to maintain the integrity of the labour market and to protect Australia’s reputation as a destination of choice.”

Ms Roumeliotis said the new findings corroborated an SSI report released in June, which was based on consultation of more than 50 experts across five sectors, which has been endorsed by major organisations including Allianz Australia, IKEA, and The Australian Council of Social Services.

“There is increasing momentum and will across sectors to address exploitation. We welcome the government’s efforts to tackle this through its legislative reform package, but gaps still remain,” she said.

These fall into four key areas:

  1. Protect whistle blowers and address barriers to reporting exploitation
  2. Support workers to recover their wages and entitlements
  3. Increase flexibility and visa portability for people on employer-sponsored visas
  4. Address the information and education needs of migrants and employers.

“Importantly, these and other protections and rights should be clearly communicated to migrant workers and employers alike,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

“It’s one thing to make a change and another again to ensure it is understood and complied with. As a starting point, refugee and migrant service organisations must be supported to offer education in Australian workplace rights for newcomers, many of whom may come from countries with weaker worker protections.”

About the Billion Dollar Benefit report:

Released in June 2023, Billion Dollar Benefit sets out a roadmap for unleashing the economic potential of refugees and migrants. The report is based on the insights and views of more than 50 experts who attended the Refugee and Migrant Skills and Jobs Summit held at Parliament House on 22 March 2023. The cross-sector experts included representatives from employers, community organisations, unions, government officials and, most importantly, people with lived experience as skilled refugees and migrants seeking meaningful employment in Australia. The Summit was co-hosted by Settlement Services International (SSI), the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), Settlement Council of Australia (SCOA), and Community Corporate.

Media enquiries:

Jordan Wood, Senior Communication Officer

M: 0423 965 956  E:

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