Chair’s Public Statement April 2017 meeting

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Chair's Public Statement - Professor Allan Fels AO

The Migrant Workers' Taskforce held its third meeting on 5 April 2017 in Canberra. I thank members for their continued contribution.

Labour hire

The Taskforce invited Professor Anthony Forsyth, Chair of the Victorian Inquiry into the Labour Hire Industry and Insecure Work and Mr Charles Cameron from the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA) to speak at the meeting on the topic of labour hire reform. I thank both presenters for their time. The Taskforce appreciated the opportunity to hear from leading experts on the important and complex issue of labour hire and third party on-hire employment arrangements.

Professor Forsyth discussed his findings from the Victorian inquiry into labour hire practices and outlined his reasoning for recommending regulation of labour hire in certain industries whilst also supporting industry-led initiatives. Professor Forsyth also referred to the UK's recent reforms in this area.

The RCSA argued for an industry-led approach to increase compliance in the labour hire industry.  A Workforce Services Provider Certification Trial supported by the Association is currently running in the horticulture sector in three geographic regions.

I welcome responsible industry led reforms, particularly in areas where labour hire companies have been involved with the exploitation of temporary migrant workers.  However, given the serious issues identified by Professor Forsyth through the Victorian inquiry, and similar recent inquiries, the Taskforce will give careful consideration to further options for addressing this issue at its next meeting.

In the meantime I am pleased to announce that the Department of Employment will provide $14,000 to the RCSA to support the Workforce Services Provider Certification Trial and I look forward to the results, which will further inform the Taskforce's consideration of recommendations to Government on this issue.

Stakeholder consultation

The Taskforce has agreed to conduct two roundtables in July 2017 to hear directly from legal organisations, community groups and academics on suitable policy responses and remedies to the issue of workplace exploitation of migrant workers. This follows earlier consultations with employer and union groups.

The Taskforce has also agreed to invite the Chair of the Labour Exploitation Working Group,
Ms Fiona McLeod SC, to its next meeting.  The Labour Exploitation Working Group, which works under the auspices of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery established by the Minister for Justice, is working on criminal exploitation of migrant workers.

Monitoring 7-Eleven

The Taskforce also heard from the Chief Executive Officer of 7-Eleven, Mr Angus McKay. Mr McKay attended the meeting to provide an update on 7-Eleven's wage remediation program. I would like to thank Mr McKay for engaging with the Taskforce on this critical issue and to note that the company has made repayments of over $85 million to workers employed by its franchisees to date through this process. The Fair Work Ombudsman, as Australia's workplace regulator, has approved 7-Eleven's revised methodology for calculating payments, but the Taskforce was disappointed that the methodology document has not been made available to the Taskforce despite specific requests.  

The actions taken by 7-Eleven to address the exploitation of workers are necessary given the history of underpayment by franchisees, poor record keeping, and improper business practices. I made a public statement in late August last year that around 20,000 people were employed by 7-Eleven during the period that underpayment was going on. I believe that thousands of those workers who were underpaid have still not had redress. I therefore strongly encourage 7-Eleven to ensure that every worker who is still owed money is fully compensated as soon as possible. 

Strengthening protections for vulnerable workers

I note that the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 to Parliament on 1 March 2017. The provisions in the Bill, including new obligations on franchisors are an important part of the effort to eliminate exploitation and underpayment for vulnerable workers and I encourage Members of Parliament and other stakeholders to support this important Bill.

The Taskforce also noted the Fair Work Ombudsman's recently announced new Record My Hours app. The app is designed to assist young and migrant workers to automatically record their hours of work which can be used for several purposes but importantly, could form evidence to support potential claims of underpayment.

As the Taskforce has previously acknowledged, some vulnerable visa holders are fearful of contacting Government agencies to complain about exploitation. I am advised that the new reporting protocol between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Fair Work Ombudsman that was first announced by this Taskforce has been implemented. More information about this protocol can be found at Fair Work Ombudsman and Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Next steps

We still have a lot more to do and we will continue to take action to stamp out exploitation of migrant workers in Australian workplaces.

At the meeting, I encouraged members to think boldly about this complex issue so that the Taskforce can produce real outcomes for vulnerable migrant workers. To support this, we have a strong forward agenda. This includes considering options to address exploitation of migrant workers by labour hire companies, examining better ways to monitor employers of migrant workers; discussing potential ways for workers to have a quick and effective avenue to recover wages; and identifying gaps in the current data holdings and compliance activities of government agencies.