The Federal Government has confirmed that it has accepted in principle all 22 recommendations of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce Report, including criminalisation of serious worker exploitation and establishing a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme.
The aim is to protect vulnerable workers, and Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations Kelly O’Dwyer said the exploitation of workers in Australian workplaces is not only illegal, it harms individuals, undercuts law-abiding employers and reflects poorly on Australia’s international reputation.
“For the very first time we will introduce criminal sanctions for the most serious and egregious forms of deliberate exploitation of workers,” she said.
However, Tara Diamond, AMMA Acting Chief Executive has stated that introducing criminal sanctions into workplace relations law is unnecessary given existing criminal law can already be applied in the most serious cases of unlawful treatment of employees.
“Further, criminal charges would likely be counter-productive to the efficient recovery of underpaid wages for affected workers. We would also need to carefully consider how the introduction of criminal charges might affect reporting of underpayment or exploitation.”
The Government has also recently provided the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) with an additional $14.4 million to focus on the protection of migrant workers. This further funding follows an extra $20.1 million provided to the FWO in 2016-17 to crackdown on law breaking.
In addition, the Government will finalise a model for a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme which will reduce worker exploitation and drive behavioural change among labour hire operators in high-risk sectors.
The Government has also provided $20.9 million to the Australian Taxation Office to establish the Superannuation Guarantee Taskforce and introduced new laws which for the first time enables the ATO to seek criminal penalties for employers who refuse to pay workers superannuation.
The Government will now consult closely with stakeholders as it works through each of the recommendations of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce and will carefully consider the circumstances and most appropriate legislative vehicle to give effect to criminal sanctions.