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2016-03-04

Brendan OConnor

Labor to introduce worker protection Bill

The federal Labor Party has given notice that it will introduce a Private Member's Bill that is designed to trigger a crackdown on underpayments, sham contracting and exploitation of temporary visa workers. 

On 25 February Shadow workplace relations minister Brendan O'Connor announced that he would be introducing the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Australian Workers) Bill 2016 into the Senate on March 15.

At the same time O’Connor called for bi-partisan support for measures that would deliver critical protections for workers in Australia.

The introduction of the Bill comes in the wake of fresh scandals involving the exploitation of workers at 7-Eleven.

A recent Senate inquiry heard that 7-Eleven workers on student visas were being intimidated, threatened with deportation and even beaten for complaining about underpayments.

The workers were typically working for half the award rate.

The legislation would increase penalties for underpayment for large companies like 7-Eleven but not for small businesses. It also makes clear that the Fair Work Act applies to workers who breach their visa conditions, which is expected to result in more complaints of exploitation.

It includes a new section which introduces two new criminal offences for breaches of the Fair Work involving temporary overseas workers. The offences relate to coercion or a threat within the meaning of the slavery and slavery-like conditions provision in the Criminal Code.

That a company in a wealthy country like Australia could even potentially be employing workers on “slavery-like” conditions is a sign of the times.  As ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said, high profile offenders such as 7-Eleven are just the tip of the iceberg.

"There needs to be bipartisan support for these significant and long-called-for worker protections which lift the corporate veil."

Source: Workplace Express.

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