Major crackdown on employing illegal workers
Thursday, 21 July 2011
The Federal Government will overhaul penalties for hiring illegal workers after an independent review revealed the Howard Government consistently turned a blind eye to the problem, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen announced today.
Mr Bowen today released the review of the Migration Amendment (Employer Sanctions) Act 2007 by independent legal expert Stephen Howells that looked at penalty and enforcement arrangements for businesses employing non-citizens working in Australia without permission.
'The Howells Review shows that while we have had success in locating illegal workers, the Howard Government's failure to implement an effective penalty regime – despite clear advice to do so – has impeded our ability to take action against employers doing the wrong thing,' Mr Bowen said.
'The Gillard Government will take action to address deficiencies in the existing laws to ensure we have an effective sanctions system in place to deter illegal work hire practices and take action against recalcitrant employers.'
The Howells Review found strong evidence of a growing number of illegal workers in Australia, with a minimum of about 50 000 and potentially more than 100 000 people working in the country without permission.
The problem is also associated with other illegal activity, including serious organised crime, taxation and welfare fraud, sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable workers.
However the review did find that there was only a very small number of employers and labour suppliers that persistently used illegal workers as a cheaper source of labour, with the great majority of employers doing the right thing.
Mr Bowen said the government had accepted in-principle the review's recommendations and would not tolerate illegal and exploitative labour hire practices.
'We will overhaul the penalties for hiring illegal workers. These illegal practices expose vulnerable people to exploitation, distort the labour market and are often associated with abuse of taxation, employment and welfare laws,' he said.
The review also found that asylum seekers arriving by sea are not part of the problem, and are a very small number by comparison.
The government has agreed in-principle to the review's recommendations, which include:
- Introducing a new three-tiered employer sanctions regime with civil penalties and fines, as well as maintaining the current criminal penalties;
- Putting in place protections for employers that do the right thing by checking work entitlements;
- Better education and awareness for employers and labour hire groups on their obligations; and
- Greater powers for compliance officers to gather documentary evidence against non-compliant employers.
Mr Bowen said as part of the penalty overhaul, the government would consult with stakeholders on the Howells Review's recommendations and ways to better enforce the existing law, while safeguarding the majority of employers that do the right thing.
'We must ensure any regulatory impacts are balanced against the need to act on illegal work practices. We are particularly interested in hearing the views of small business,' he said.
As part of its response to the review, the government will also take into account any relevant recommendations made by the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner as part of its current inquiry into sham contracting.
A copy of the Howells Report can be found on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's website.
See: 2010 Howells Review of Employer Sanctions
Enquiries and submissions on the recommendations of the Howells review may be forwarded to the department by 1 September 2011.
Last update: Thursday, 21 July 2011 at 12:21 AEST