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Migrant Workers' Taskforce recommendations are a mixed bag

"The Migrant Workers’ Taskforce Report contains many sensible recommendations that industry can readily support. However, a number of the recommendations would have adverse consequences for the community and should not be implemented. It is important that any proposed legislative amendments are very carefully considered before implementation," Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

"The Taskforce has sensibly recommended a number of measures aimed at ensuring that employers and employees better understand their rights and obligations. The Taskforce has also focussed on the need for increased resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman and further research into the extent, nature and causes of underpayments.

"The Taskforce's recommendation that criminal penalties be implemented for serious and deliberate breaches of workplace laws should not be implemented. While at first glance, this might seem like a good idea, there are many reasons why this is not in anyone's interests:

  • Penalties for breaches of industrial laws were recently increased by up to 20 times and this already provides an effective deterrent.
  • Implementing criminal penalties for wage underpayments would discourage investment, entrepreneurship and employment growth.
  • Importantly, a criminal case would not deliver any back-pay to an underpaid worker. Where a criminal case is underway, any civil case to recoup unpaid amounts would be put on hold by the Court until the criminal case is concluded. This means that underpaid workers could be waiting years for back-pay.

"The extension of the accessorial liability provisions of the Fair Work Act for businesses which contract out services is also problematic. Outsourcing is a legitimate and important way for businesses to remain competitive and to continue to employ Australian workers. The existing accessorial liability provisions already provide strong protections for workers and impose liabilities on businesses and people that are knowingly concerned in any breaches of the law by other businesses.

"The idea of a national labour hire licensing scheme for certain industries only has merit if the State labour hire licensing schemes in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia are abolished. Otherwise, a national licensing scheme would simply impose an even more unreasonable cost and onerous regulatory burden on labour hire businesses and their clients.

"We welcome the Australian Government’s commitment to consult thoroughly with industry groups and other stakeholders about the Taskforce’s recommendations, and Ai Group looks forward to participating in this process," Mr Willox said.

Media enquiries: Tony Melville – 0419 190 347