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Protecting overseas workers from exploitation – update on sponsor monitoring activities

Australian workplace laws apply universally to all. In addition to these workplace protections, temporary overseas workers have an additional protective framework embodied in the Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Act 2008 (the Worker Protection Act) sponsorship obligations.

The vast majority of sponsors are compliant; however, there is a comparatively small number of sponsors who inadvertently fail their sponsorship obligations, and even fewer who are recklessly unscrupulous.

In addition to sponsor monitoring officers, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) also has a highly trained, dedicated inspectorate of 38 officers who maintain a keen eye on sponsors of temporary overseas workers in order to protect them from exploitation. An inspector’s role is to gather information, investigate and assess matters relating to a sponsor’s compliance with their sponsorship obligations under the Worker Protection Act.

DIAC has commenced monitoring on 1398 sponsors; issued breach notices to 270; officially warned 188; and sanctioned 75, which means to 29 February this financial year, we have barred or cancelled sponsorship to a not insignificant number of employers doing the wrong thing.

In addition to administrative sanctions, we also have the power to serve infringements and take civil action; already in the last eight months we have issued 37 infringements to a value of more than $186 000, and filed two applications in the Federal Magistrates Court against sponsors for failing their obligations to their visa holders. Other cases are pending.

During the monitoring process, we also work collaboratively with other agencies. For example, if we uncover issues that fall within the responsibility of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), we either collaborate with, or refer cases to their inspectors for full investigation to ensure compliance with workplace laws. DIAC and the FWO are also working together to help visa holders understand their legal rights when working in Australia. In December we jointly released a fact sheet about workplace rights, specifically for overseas temporary workers. It is available at http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/skilled-workers/_pdf/457-your-rights-work.pdf