What Australia needs to attract and protect migrant workers

Australia depends on migration for its workforce.

And this fact has become very obvious with the impact of COVID on our workforce. When many temporary visa holders including international students, backpackers and seasonal workers suddenly left Australia during COVID the impact on industries such as hospitality, agriculture and healthcare services revealed how vital these workers are to the Australian workforce.

We have all heard the stories of the difficulties of employing staff, through many industries. Finding staff is the biggest problem for many businesses.

But in order to attract the workers that we need to boost our workforce in essential areas we need to make some key reforms to address a dark legacy of wage theft by employers.

These are the problems that currently exist:-

  • The exploitation of workers because regulators do not routinely detect or punish labour law noncompliance
  • The system makes it almost impossible for workers to directly pursue a wage claim process from their employer
  • Many migrant workers don’t complain because they fear they will lose their job or visa.

While the Fair Work Ombudsman has an agreement with the immigration department that workers reporting exploitation will probably not lose their visas, they do share information about workers’ visa breaches with immigration. Therefore migrant workers are not assured of protection.


Now that international students, backpackers and foreign workers are returning in increasing numbers it is important as a nation that we address these issues. Previous approaches to addressing wage theft have not worked.

According to The Conversion meaningful reform of our migration system for migrant workers would clearly signal that migrant workers are valued members of the Australian community and workforce. But in order to do this, the government has to accept and address that wage theft among migrant workers is systemic and not the exception.

A migrant worker task force was established in 2019 that made 22 detailed recommendations to address these issues. And while the government supported these recommendations they have been largely ignored and very few have been implemented.


This article is intended to provide general information in summary form on legal topics, current at the time of publication, for general informational purposes only. The material may not apply to all jurisdictions. The contents do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any particular matters you or your organisation may have.