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11 September 2023

I was pleased to see the legislation to strengthen employer compliance to protect migrant workers was passed by Parliament last week.

This was the speech I made on the Bill in September.  


Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023

I stand to contribute to the debate on the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill 2023.

I speak from experience on this subject.

Out of all the lands across the world – my dad chose to make Australia his new home for his family. 

This was back in 1976.

My parents came to Australia from Goa by way of Kenya.

When Dad went to the Australian Embassy in Kenya they said to my dad, a metal worker by trade, “you have the right skills, but you’re the wrong colour”. 

This of course when Australia still had the White Australia policy in place. 

When the Gough Whitlam government dismantled the last parts of this policy my parents came across.

When my family arrived in Kambalda where my father had a job at the nickel mine as a metalworker, we were originally allocated accommodation in the single men’s quarters. 

My family had travelled halfway around the world in search of a better life, and before them was a challenge that threatened to derail that journey.

The single men’s quarters were rough. It was no place for a young family, and it wasn’t going to provide a quality of life for my mum, dad, and sister.

My father’s boss, Bob, saw the look of dread at the prospect on my father’s face and invited him into his home until my parents could get a place of their own.

It was that one decision that set into motion my family’s story in Australia. 

Kambalda attracted skilled locals and migrants from across the world. 

People like Bob saw my family’s struggle and felt the injustice of this young family being put up in less than satisfactory conditions. 

Instead of being subject to exploitation, the employer supported a new migrant worker.

My father went on to make a valuable contribution to the workforce at a time when migrant workers were needed by a country screaming out for skills. 

I tell the story to illustrate what the experience of migrant workers should look like in Australia.

We are again screaming out for the skills that migrant workers can provide to our economy.

But sadly, the experience for many migrant workers in our country in 2023 is far different from the story I am fortunate to be able to tell. 

I know about the Sydney Childcare centre operator who failed to pay two migrant employees under the premise of a volunteer arrangement and was fined $30, 240 in penalties as well as back pay.

I know about the major waste management company charged with allegedly underpaying five vulnerable migrant workers a combined total of $194,249. 

In my hometown of Perth, I know of the disability service provider was fined and ordered to back pay six migrant workers from Inda and Ireland it underpaid over a five-year period.

These are not isolated cases.

The Grattan Institute reported in May this year that exploitation, underpaying, and unscrupulous treatment of migrant workers by employers is widespread. 

It reports that recent migrants to Australia are twice as likely as long-term residents to be underpaid, and up to 16 per cent of recent migrants are paid less than the national average.

Migrant workers are more vulnerable than other workers.

Why is this?

The Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights explains that migrants are at heightened risk of exploitation and abuse in the workplace because of vulnerabilities unique to their temporary visa status.

This includes:

  • Deceptive recruitment practices by employers
  • Lack of social support systems and connections to the community
  • A cultural and language barrier
  • They are often unaware of their work or legal rights and limited access to those services.
  • They are often dependent on the employer for visa status.
  • There is often a reliance by family members for migrant workers to send their pay back home.

Current penalties on employers for exploiting these vulnerabilities are soft.

The Grattan Institutes argue they are not a deterrent at all.

It compares the $ 4 million worth of penalties handed out to unscrupulous employers of migrant workers in 2022 to the $3 billion in fines issued by the Australian Tax Office for people who have not paid their taxes. 

This soft approach to worker exploitation is unacceptable. 

People need to be put first.

That is why we need to pay this crisis the attention it deserves and make the legislative change that is needed to put an end to exploitation.

The Migration Amendment (Strengthening Employer Compliance) Bill does that.

I commend Minister Tony Burke, Minister Clare O’Neill, and Minister Andrew Giles for their collaboration in bringing forward this Bill.

I acknowledge the work they have done engaging with civil organisations, unions and industry to develop legislation to alleviate the crisis of exploitation to implement measures that will strengthen the compliance of employers to the fair and just treatment of migrant workers.

The recommendations in the Bill have the support of the Grattan Institute, which has called for these reforms through its advocacy work to government and industry. 


I commend them for their work in this space and their dedication to improving the treatment of migrant workers in Australia.

The Bill will strengthen the compliance of employers with the regulations that seek to protect vulnerable workers. 

The Fair Work Act and the Migration Act will work hand in hand to penalise employers who do not comply with the law.

This Bill addresses this discrepancy and implements recommendations included in the 2019 Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce. 

They are recommendations the former Liberal Government accepted in principle but failed to implement.

It is this crisis of exploitation that was caused by the ten years of neglect of the rights of migrant workers by the Liberal Government.

Thanks to this Labor Government, it will now be a criminal offence for someone to unduly influence, pressure, or coerce a temporary migrant worker to breach a condition of their visa.

Thanks to this Labor Government, employers who have been convicted of underpaying temporary migrant workers will be prevented from employing new temporary visa holders for a period determined by the Court. 

The Bill has also thought carefully about how these measures will be enforced.

In order to ensure the Australian Border Force is properly resourced, $50 million will be allocated over the next four years to enhance its role in employer compliance.

The Grattan Institute reports that migrant workers know they are underpaid but they don’t act.

Under amendments to legislation made by this Bill, migrants should have no fear is acting against employers who are underpaying them.

This Bill will also go further to introduce additional measures to tackle the exploitation by employers on workers on temporary visas.

By removing the section in the Migration Act that makes it a criminal offence to breach a work-related visa condition, workers do not need to fear criminal

sanctions for speaking up against a work-related condition of their visa, when that condition is a product of an exploitative work environment. 

This is a big forward step to making sure some of the most vulnerable workers in our country, migrants on temporary visa holders are supported in speaking out. 


Prior to the pandemic, migrants accounted for a growing share of Australia’s workforce.

The exploitation of this section of the workforce doesn’t only affect them, it hurts all workers, by driving down wages and worsening employment conditions for everyone.

This Bill will support a stronger workforce for all of Australia.  

I commend the Bill to this House.