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Working holiday program needs better safeguards, LIV tells inquiry

Working holiday program needs better safeguards, LIV tells inquiry

By Karin Derkley

Migration Law Workplace Relations 

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Measures to guard against exploitation of vulnerable workers on working holiday visas must be introduced as part of any extension of the current program, the LIV told a parliamentary inquiry last week.

Examples of exploitation included poor working conditions, workers’ pay being deducted by intermediaries and contractors, and workers not being given payslips so they had no explanation of their earnings, the LIV pointed out in its submission to the inquiry.

The LIV supports the extension of existing working holiday visas as a way of addressing the needs of farmers and regional Australia during the pandemic. Migration Law Committee co-chair Samantha Fitzsimons said the federal government should take a more flexible approach by extending for another two years the visas of people who already hold two-year working holiday visas.

Ms Fitzsimons also recommended that people who are currently still overseas but have obtained a working holiday visa be granted a 12-month extension so they can enter the country when it is safe to do so.

A pathway should also be created to enable onshore students and other temporary visa holders to participate in the program as a way of transitioning to a longer-term visa, she said. "Extending the validity of onshore visas would expand the economy in regional Australia and reduce crop wastes in the short to medium term,” Ms Fitzsimons said.

But the needs of regional Australia need to be balanced with proper scrutiny and regulations to ensure safe, healthy and favourable working conditions for working holiday makers, she warned.

"That includes fair wages, equal remuneration and a workplace free from discrimination in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

Shepparton migration lawyer and LIV Migration Law Committee member Jackson Taylor said exploitation happened primarily in cohorts where people have limited visa options, "and who are often sort of 'mortgaged' to being in Australia”.

Such workers often have limited resources and English skills and work for labour hire companies that hire them out to a variety of contractors, he said. "There may be multiple parties involved – not just farmers, but different layers of labour hire and they're charged for everything from the ride out to the orchard, to their bed, to the food they are forced to eat.

Exploitation can range from relatively light touch to a high level of exploitation and abuse, Mr Taylor said. “From reports we've seen there can be two to three other intermediaries involved, and deductions can be anything from a couple of dollars an hour to 70 per cent. Some of these people don't even get payslips and they don't know they should be getting payslips. They have very minimal understanding of the Australian work environment.”

LIV Refugee Law Reform Committee co-chair and Migration Law Committee member Carina Ford said that apart from educating workers about their rights, and employers about their obligations, there needs to be a better workplace monitoring system. "There should be visits to farms (and other places) where we know there are large cohorts of temporary workers to make sure that their conditions are appropriate. That may include living quarters as well."

To properly address this, the government needs to ensure that relevant regulatory authorities are well resourced, including the Department of Home Affairs, the Fair Work Ombudsman and other employment regulators, the LIV told the inquiry.


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