The South Australian and Victorian governments have announced inquiries into abuse of migrant workers hired on 417 “working holiday” visas following an exposé by Four Corners.
The ABC television program revealed evidence of extreme labour exploitation and black market labour gangs had been found on farms and in factories supplying some Australian food outlets.
Migrant workers from Asia and Europe were reported as being routinely abused, harassed and assaulted at work, with further suggestions women were being targeted sexually.
The migrant workers enter Australia legally on 417 visas, which were designed as a cultural exchange program. The visa allows migrant workers to travel and work for up to six months in one location, performing low-skilled jobs such as fruit and vegetable picking or working in production factories in regional locations and some cities.
The 457 visa is supposed to be used in industries suffering a skills shortage – such as the baking industry – to allow employers to hire a skilled migrant worker for up to four years.
Research conducted by the Social Research Centre and used in a report by the Migration Council of Australia has suggested almost 20 per cent of employers surveyed said they used the scheme to engage workers they saw as harder working or more loyal than their Australian counterparts. Around 10 per cent said Australian workers do not like doing the job and 6 per cent claimed Australian workers have a poor attitude.
“Skilled immigration produces substantial benefits for Australia. It delivers economic advantages, opens trade opportunities and helps to address the challenges of population ageing and declining workforce participation,” Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sydney Chris F. Wright said.
“Employers need to focus more on improving job quality and working more closely with the Australian education and training system in addressing skills shortages where they genuinely do exist.”