The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has released a report that’s critical of the exploitation of backpackers on 417 working holiday visas in Australia. One expert reveals what can be done to keep businesses compliant.
The report, which surveyed 4000 foreign workers currently on working holiday visas, found that most respondents were unaware of their workplace rights in Australia.
It was also found that unscrupulous employers are establishing their business models around the placement of these working holiday visa holders. For example, employers are imposing unlawful deductions of pay and charging foreign workers to provide them with employment.
A recent backpacker’s experience working on a Victorian grape farm serves as a prime example of the exploitation foreign workers are exposed to.
The worker in question, from Toulouse in France, was told to make an upfront payment for two weeks’ accommodation in Mildura, Victoria in return for employment picking grapes at a rate of around $1 per bucket. For 11 hours a day for two weeks, she worked in 43-degree heat for with only one opportunity to refill her water bottle a day.
Many workers on 417 working holiday visas agree to work under similar conditions for three months in order to gain a second-year visa. According to the FWO report, 59 per cent of respondents agreed that they would be unlikely to complain about their working conditions – just in case their work was not signed off.
Cases like these, as this report shows, are all too common and demonstrate how difficult it is to police requirements and standards for 417 working holiday visas . The abject failure of some employers to adhere to minimum employment standards embodied in a number of Australian laws and workplace instruments is not only exploitation: it is discrimination at a fundamental level.
What can be done?
A firm approach is required by the government to tackle this situation. This strict approach should then be balanced between deterrent measures and education. Deterrent measures might include the introduction of penalty provisions to deter errant employers from unethical practices. These practices could also include withholding passports or the failure to sign the required documentation when an employee completes work as per the 417 holiday visa requirements.
On the other hand, educational measures should apply to both employers and employees. Every employer who seeks to employ people on 417 working holiday visas should be made aware of their rights and liabilities, as well as who to turn to for assistance. Likewise, 417 visa holders need to be informed of their legal rights and who to turn to for assistance if they believe they are being exploited.
That being said, the difficulty in policing relevant businesses lies in the dissemination of information to them. While most employers know or have a general idea of their liabilities and obligations, there are many who might not be aware of the extent of their obligations, nor the repercussions of certain practices.
One way of making sure that key information is provided to relevant organisations is to set up a register of employers who consistently hire workers on 417 holiday visas. This register should not require the employer to jump through complicated bureaucratic hoops, but would rather serve as a way to assist entities to comply with their obligations.
If you are unsure about the processes around hiring foreign workers, we strongly recommend you seek legal assistance.
You can find out more about compliance regulations regarding 417 holiday visas at AHRI ASSIST.