Claims New Figures Reveal 'Serious Breaches' of 457 Visa System

The Australian Council of Trade Unions says newly released figures suggest very serious breaches of sponsorship conditions in the 457 skilled migrant visa category.

SBS World News Radio, by Kristina Kukolja, 4 December 2014

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The Australian Council of Trade Unions says newly released figures suggest very serious breaches of sponsorship conditions in the 457 skilled migrant visa category.

The ACTU is reviving its call for a Senate inquiry into temporary overseas visas, claiming the system is wide open to exploitation.

Kristina Kukolja has more.

Documents obtained by the Transport Workers Union under Freedom of Information reveal concerns about salary and position arrangements for 107 out of 504 457 skilled migrant visa-holders audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman during July, August and September of this year.

The TWU puts this at about 20 per cent of the surveyed sample.

By comparison, the figures for September 2013 to June this year amounted to 16 per cent.

Another 20 per cent of employers were shown not to have provided the requested information or couldn't be located by inspectors.

Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney says the implications are far-reaching.

"This is very serious because, in some ways, this is just scratching the surface. We have nearly 12 per cent of our workforce -- people here on some form of temporary work visa -- and if what we're finding with just the 457 visas, it's just a percentage of all of the work visas here. If one in five 457 visa workers are being abused and exploited -- because that's what this is, it's exploitation -- then heaven knows what is happening right across the other temporary work visa systems that we have in this country."

Ms Kearney says the federal government is complicit in allowing foreign workers to be exploited.

"We have a government right now that is dead set on relaxing the terms under which temporary workers can be brought in, but not resourcing up the inspectorates and making sure there are enough inspectors to keep an eye on these things. They simply are making it much easier for employers to get cheaper exploitable labour from overseas and this is something that is totally unacceptable."

In a statement, the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed the figures cited by the TWU.

It says the role of the Ombudsman was expanded last year to oversee adherence by employers to 457 visa sponsorship obligations.

"If monitoring reveals that employers are not meeting their sponsorship obligations, they are referred to the Department of Immigration & Border Protection. Last financial year, the Fair Work Ombudsman monitored the employment of 1902 457 visa-holders by 1029 employing entities. A total of 243 employing entities were referred to the Immigration Department last financial year because of concerns that nominated salary or position obligations were not being met for a total of 338 visa-holders."

For the same period, Fair Work inspectors list accommodation and food services, retail trade and health care, and social assistance as industries where the concerns were identified.

The Department of Immigration has issued a statement saying the report regarding the subclass 457 visa programme are unfounded and based on a misrepresentation of the data provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

 It says the report mistakenly assumes all referrals by the Ombudsman to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are a finding of fact about wrong doing by an employer.

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