Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Introduction

Inquiry terms of reference

1.1        On 24 March 2015, the Senate referred the following terms of reference to the Education and Employment References Committee for inquiry and report by 22 June 2015:

The impact of Australia's temporary work visa programs on the Australian labour market and on the temporary work visa holders, with particular reference to:

  1. the wages, conditions, safety and entitlements of Australian workers and temporary work visa holders, including:
    1. whether the programs 'carve out' groups of employees from Australian labour and safety laws and, if so, to what extent this threatens the integrity of such laws,
    2. the employment opportunities for Australians, including:
      1. the effectiveness of the labour market testing provisions (the provisions) of the Migration Act 1958 in protecting employment opportunities for Australian citizens and permanent residents, and
      2. whether the provisions need to be strengthened to improve the protection of employment opportunities for Australian citizens and permanent residents and, if so, how this could be achieved,
    3. the adequacy of publicly available information about the operation of the provisions, and
    4. the nature of current exemptions from the provisions and what effect these exemptions have on the reach and coverage of labour market testing obligations and laws regarding wages, conditions and entitlements of Australian workers and temporary work visa holders;
  2. the impact of Australia's temporary work visa programs on training and skills development in Australia, including:
    1. the adequacy of current obligations on 457 visa sponsoring employers to provide training opportunities for Australian citizens and permanent residents,
    2. how these obligations could be strengthened and improved, and
    3. the effect on the skills base of the permanent Australian workforce;
  3. whether temporary work visa holders receive the same wages, conditions, safety and other entitlements as their Australian counterparts or in accordance with the law, including:
    1. the extent of any exploitation and mistreatment of temporary work visa holders, such as sham contracting or debt bondage with exorbitant interest rate payments,
    2. the role of recruitment agents, and
    3. the adequacy of information provided to temporary work visa holders on their rights and obligations in their workplace and community, and how it can be improved;
  4. whether temporary work visa holders have access to the same benefits and entitlements available to Australian citizens and permanent residents, and whether any differences are justified and consistent with international conventions relating to migrant workers;
  5. the adequacy of the monitoring and enforcement of the temporary work visa programs and their integrity, including:
    1. the wages, conditions and entitlements of temporary work visa holders, and
    2. cases of 457 visa fraud, such as workers performing duties outside or below the job classification of the visa;
  6. the role and effect of English language requirements in limited and temporary work visa programs;
  7. whether the provisions and concessions made for designated area migration agreements, enterprise migration agreements, and labour agreements affect the integrity of the 457 visa program, or affect any other matter covered in these terms of reference;
  8. the relationship between the temporary 457 visa and other temporary visa types with work rights attached to them; and
  9. any related matter.

That in conducting the inquiry, the committee shall review the findings and recommendations of previous inquiries into such matters, including the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee's report, Framework and operation of subclass 457 visas, Enterprise Migration Agreements and Regional Migration Agreements.[1]

Conduct of the inquiry

1.2        Notice of the inquiry was posted on the committee's website. The committee also advertised the inquiry in The Australian and wrote to key stakeholder groups, organisations and individuals to invite submissions.

1.3        The committee received 64 submissions as detailed in Appendix 1.

1.4        The committee held ten public hearings:

1.5        A list of witnesses who gave evidence at the public hearings is detailed in Appendix 2.

Extension to the inquiry

1.6        During the course of the committee's inquiry, media investigations raised serious concerns about the exploitation of temporary work visa holders in Australia (see the background section in chapter 2). Against a background of continuing revelations relevant to the committee's terms of reference, the committee sought approval to extend the timeframe for its own inquiries into these and related matters.

1.7        The Senate agreed to five extensions to the inquiry reporting date. On 14 May 2015, the Senate agreed to extend the reporting date to 19 August 2015.[2] On 11 August 2015, the Senate agreed to extend the reporting date to 14 October 2015.[3] During this period, the committee focused largely on matters related to the 457 and 417 (Working Holiday Maker or 'backpacker') visa programs.

1.8        Following revelations of the exploitation of international students on temporary visas working across the 7-Eleven network of stores, the committee agreed to inquire into these matters as well. On 7 September 2015, the Senate agreed to extend the inquiry with the final report due on 11 February 2016.[4]

1.9        The committee held a hearing in Melbourne on 24 September 2015 related to the employment conditions of temporary migrant workers employed at 7-Eleven. Prior to the hearing, the committee invited specific submissions from those witnesses attending the hearing. The committee held further hearings on these matters on 20 November 2015 in Melbourne and 5 February 2016 in Canberra.

1.10      On 30 November 2015, the Senate agreed to extend the reporting date to 25 February 2016.[5] On 22 February 2016, the Senate agreed to a further extension of the reporting date to 17 March 2016.[6]

Scope and structure of the report

1.11      Although a range of varied and specific matters were raised during the course of the inquiry, certain themes run across one or more of the temporary visa programs. The report is therefore divided into five parts:

1.12      The report chapters are structured as follows:

Acknowledgements

1.13      During the course of the inquiry, the committee has benefitted greatly from the participation of many individuals and organisations located throughout Australia. The committee thanks all those who assisted with the inquiry, especially the witnesses who put in extra time and effort to answer written questions on notice and provide further valuable feedback to the committee as it gathered evidence.

1.14      But most of all, the committee acknowledges the many temporary visa holders that appeared before the committee to recount their experiences. Many of these individuals placed themselves in jeopardy in order to expose appalling and often systemic exploitation. The committee has formed the view that these individuals were motivated by a desire to see positive change in Australia's system of temporary visa programs and to ensure that other temporary visa holders would not endure the exploitation they had experienced. Without their personal accounts, the committee would not have been able to fully appreciate the need for a sufficiently robust regulatory and compliance framework to deliver a temporary visa program that is mutually beneficial for both Australia and for temporary visa holders.

Note on references

1.15      References to the committee Hansard are to the official Hansard with the exception of 5 February 2016 which is the proof Hansard. Page numbers may vary between the proof and official Hansard transcripts for 5 February 2016.

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