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Half of migrant workers feel unsafe and ripped off – survey

17 April 20230 comments

About half of migrant workers in Australia say they feel unsafe at work and experience discrimination, bullying and verbal abuse, a new survey has found.

The report, ‘Insecure by Design: Australia’s migration system and migrant workers’ job market experience’, commissioned by the Migrant Workers Centre, also found 58 per cent of migrants experience wage theft.

And it found migrant workers on temporary visas or in insecure work were far more likely to experience workplace safety hazards.

The report surveyed more than a thousand in Australia about their experiences in the job market and migration system, and found many migrants experienced discrimination in job application processes because of their visa status, despite having work rights, which pushed them towards insecure work and exploitative employers.

Job insecurity was strongly correlated with feeling unsafe in the workplace, with 59 per cent of workers in precarious employment feeling always or often unsafe at work.

Of those who experienced wage theft, only 26 per cent were able to recoup their stolen wages.

And wage-theft practices included paying low rates cash-in-hand, not paying penalty rates for weekend or after-hours work, and illegal unpaid “trial” shifts.

The report said visa discrimination by employers has created a dual job market where some jobs, particularly exploitative and insecure jobs, are readily available to migrant workers whereas decent jobs are inaccessible. Australia’s temporary visa system restricts migrant workers’ ability to gain employment that utilises their skills, experience and qualifications.

It recommends banning discrimination based on migration status in the job market, better recognition for migrant workers’ skills, overseas qualifications and experience as well as improvements to job security, access to justice, compensation, and whistle-blower protections.

The report also calls for employer sponsorship to be replaced with new visas that improve labour mobility, build pathways to permanent residency for all temporary visa programs and restore the balance between permanent and temporary visa programs.

“Migrant workers experience various obstacles as they look for jobs in Australia. It is not easy to prove they have skills when their qualifications and experience are from overseas,” the report says.

“There are varying processes for overseas skills recognition across occupations, and there is no centralised database or federal regulator from which to collect official information or guide.

“As a result, migrant workers rely on professional migration service providers who have no

Industry specific expertise and cannot be held responsible for incorrect advice.”

The report says Australia’s migration system encourages migrant workers to take the two-step migration strategy because permanent residency is hard to come by: most migrant workers first arrive in Australia on a temporary visa and strive to increase their chances of acquiring a permanent visa.

“Student visas were often used in the process both to acquire local education and to extend their legal stay period,” the report said.

“Although half of our research participants received local education or training, they were not very familiar with workplace rights in Australia.

“Local education at the level of Bachelor’s degree or higher increased the chance of learning Australian industrial terms somewhat, and becoming a member of union showed a significantly higher chance migrant workers learned their workplace rights.

“To get a decent job, migrant workers need permanent residency because many businesses don’t entertain applications from migrant workers on temporary visas.

“Permanent residency is not a legal requirement for employment in Australia, but businesses tend to equate it to work rights.

“Our research participants expressed frustration about the fact it is not considered discrimination in Australia when businesses don’t treat workers fairly based on migration status,” the report said.

Chief executive of the Migrant Workers’ Centre Matt Kunkel said the report clearly showed that temporary visas were a workplace-safety issue.

“Urgent action is required to reform our system. Improving job safety and security for migrant workers will create a fairer job market for everyone,” Mr Kunkel said.

He described the “dual market “ delivered “perverse outcomes” created by Australia’s visa system whereby skilled migrants need to obtain a permanent job to get a permanent visa, but find they are discriminated against for permanent jobs when they do not have a permanent visa.

Read the full report: Insecure by design – Migrant Workers Centre