417 visa complaints soar. What do you think?

The Fair Work Ombudsman is now receiving more complaints from overseas visa-holders working in Australia than ever before. With alleged abuse of the 417 visa rearing its ugly head again, what does the industry think, asks BTN?
With news that a young Italian backpacker was allegedly paid less than $2 an hour while working in Tasmania for an employer who recruited working holidaymakers wanting to stay in Australia for two years BTN would like to know how widespread such practices are.
And what do the industries that employ backpackers as temporary labour and the tourist industry that encourages them to come to Australia think?
In August, 2014, the FWO announced it would conduct a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa.
Allegations have been raised with the Ombudsman that the 88-day requirement is being exploited by some unscrupulous operators.
The Ombudsman is now receiving more complaints from overseas visa-holders working in Australia than ever before.
“Complaints from 417 visa-holders have increased significantly – and the Fair Work Ombudsman has recently changed its operational processes to focus on employees who most need our intervention,” Ms James said.
“While we have always had a strong focus in relation to visa-holders, we now give these vulnerable employees priority through the Overseas Workers’ Team – and have invested significant resources in compliance and litigation activities.”
Between 2011-12 and 2013-14, complaints from visa-holders to the Fair Work Ombudsman increased by 165% from 909 to 2625.
Complaints from 417 visa-holders were up 382 per cent from 216 to 1042.
Between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2014, the Fair Work Ombudsman dealt with 5633 complaints from visa-holders and recovered more than $3.2 million in outstanding wages and entitlements for them.
Between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2014, the Agency finalised 22 legal cases involving overseas workers – representing about a quarter of all litigations concluded during this time period.
During the same period, 5000 overseas workers and visa-holders called the Fair Work Infoline for advice and assistance.
Of the overseas workers who have contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman in the past financial year seeking assistance, 58% were male and 42% female.
More than 35% were aged between 26 and 30 and most were born in Korea, China, Germany, France and India.
The largest number of requests for assistance from overseas workers – 24%, came from employees in the accommodation and food services sector.
Information provided to the Fair Work Ombudsman by DIPB shows that almost 50,000 second-year 417 visa applications were approved last financial year.
The top five countries now using this program are Taiwan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Ireland and Italy.
The Director of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Overseas Workers’ Team, Ms Carey Trundle, recently travelled to Cairns, Darwin and Alice Springs to meet with key stakeholders to gain intelligence as part of the 417 review.
As part of community engagement, employers, business groups, unions, local councils and police are being consulted.
Now it’s time to say what you think.

9 thoughts on “417 visa complaints soar. What do you think?

  • January 23, 2015 at 10:02 pm
    Permalink

    I understand from the international education sector that the Fair Work Ombudsman does not have unlimited resources to deal with many complaints from international students, WHV backpackers and 457 temporary work visas.

    However, this is not a criticism of Fair Work ombudsman but a question, where is the union United Voice which covers many of the service industries?

    Oz unions seem as mono cultural and xenophobic as our political and media classes who seem to view temporary residents with work rights as nuisance to be (barely) tolerated? In other words, if these service industries are so important, in addition to tourism and international education, why are their international employees often ignored (in the case of students, they are contributing billions to the economy)?

    Australia has to get over its ‘us vs. them’ divide with the union movement often being the most strident about, ‘they are taking our jobs!..’stop economic growth’.’ etc., but the reality is that western economies have and will become even more dependent upon ‘churn over’ of temporary workers from offshore due to ageing populations.

    Reply
  • January 23, 2015 at 10:02 pm
    Permalink

    I understand from the international education sector that the Fair Work Ombudsman does not have unlimited resources to deal with many complaints from international students, WHV backpackers and 457 temporary work visas.

    However, this is not a criticism of Fair Work ombudsman but a question, where is the union United Voice which covers many of the service industries?

    Oz unions seem as mono cultural and xenophobic as our political and media classes who seem to view temporary residents with work rights as nuisance to be (barely) tolerated? In other words, if these service industries are so important, in addition to tourism and international education, why are their international employees often ignored (in the case of students, they are contributing billions to the economy)?

    Australia has to get over its ‘us vs. them’ divide with the union movement often being the most strident about, ‘they are taking our jobs!..’stop economic growth’.’ etc., but the reality is that western economies have and will become even more dependent upon ‘churn over’ of temporary workers from offshore due to ageing populations.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2015 at 11:33 pm
    Permalink

    Happy to consider a BTN ‘Opinion’ column from you on this one if you fancy it Andrew? You sound well-informed on the subject.

    Reply
  • January 30, 2015 at 9:32 am
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    For many years I have been calling for Labour Hire firms to be licensed as the unscrupulous operators were festering. We now have a situation where it has spread like cancer with these operators hi-jacking the backpacker industry.
    In the 2008 Adventure & Backpacker Conference Paul Howes, the then National Secretary for the Australian Workers Union addressed the conference saying the Working Holiday Visa has a roll to play as he was working on the Pacific Island Worker program on. He made the point that his door was always open to the backpacker industry.
    We have also the situation that has been reported for many years on this site and others where local Government does not have control over illegal accommodation.
    Last week the parents of a British backpacker wrote to the Mildura’s local newspaper calling on their council to clean up the industry where backpackers were working up to 14 hours in 40C-plus conditions, clearing less than a dollar an hour after accommodation deducted in a sud -standard hostel. This has been reported on many Work & Travel Australia sites that has been seen around the globe.
    The backpacker industry must work with all parties in the industry in protecting this great industry.
    Peter McMahon

    Reply
  • January 30, 2015 at 9:32 am
    Permalink

    For many years I have been calling for Labour Hire firms to be licensed as the unscrupulous operators were festering. We now have a situation where it has spread like cancer with these operators hi-jacking the backpacker industry.
    In the 2008 Adventure & Backpacker Conference Paul Howes, the then National Secretary for the Australian Workers Union addressed the conference saying the Working Holiday Visa has a roll to play as he was working on the Pacific Island Worker program on. He made the point that his door was always open to the backpacker industry.
    We have also the situation that has been reported for many years on this site and others where local Government does not have control over illegal accommodation.
    Last week the parents of a British backpacker wrote to the Mildura’s local newspaper calling on their council to clean up the industry where backpackers were working up to 14 hours in 40C-plus conditions, clearing less than a dollar an hour after accommodation deducted in a sud -standard hostel. This has been reported on many Work & Travel Australia sites that has been seen around the globe.
    The backpacker industry must work with all parties in the industry in protecting this great industry.
    Peter McMahon

    Reply
  • February 13, 2015 at 11:01 am
    Permalink

    I agree with Macca that this should have been sorted out when the industry first saw the problem, now it is huge.
    However, I do think we should sub-divide these complaints into those who are Working Holiday makers on the 417 visa and those from India and China who are students and supposed to be just working in their university holidays.
    With so many organisations offering job options, surely, if we made a concerted effort as the Backpacker industry we could close down the unscrupulous contractors. I think Gumtree has a lot to answer for – it has made it very easy for the baddies to lure workers in their direction. Local Councils could help with policing the sub-standard hostels.
    Anyone else ready for a chat about this in Melbourne next weekend?

    Reply
  • February 13, 2015 at 11:01 am
    Permalink

    I agree with Macca that this should have been sorted out when the industry first saw the problem, now it is huge.
    However, I do think we should sub-divide these complaints into those who are Working Holiday makers on the 417 visa and those from India and China who are students and supposed to be just working in their university holidays.
    With so many organisations offering job options, surely, if we made a concerted effort as the Backpacker industry we could close down the unscrupulous contractors. I think Gumtree has a lot to answer for – it has made it very easy for the baddies to lure workers in their direction. Local Councils could help with policing the sub-standard hostels.
    Anyone else ready for a chat about this in Melbourne next weekend?

    Reply
  • February 16, 2015 at 9:06 pm
    Permalink

    Here’s the new business model Macca mentioned above in relation to a disgusting individual operator in Mildura. Charge $150 per week as a job finding fee, collect 2 weeks in advance and a deposit of $150, refundable only if one week’s notice is given in writing. Offer work, whatever it may be, and bad luck if you can’t or won’t do it, I found you work for your $150, and you can stay in my accommodation but note you are not paying for the accom, only the job finding. No receipts issued for your money, a contract you sign before anything happens and of which you don’t get a copy, you can be kicked out of the accom at a whim as you are not paying for it. Council can’t touch him, no receipts = no tax paid …laugh all the way to the bank and more suckers come every week. Doesn’t break any law, seems to be untouchable. Morally bankrupt and ripping off our industry.

    Reply
  • February 18, 2015 at 9:12 pm
    Permalink

    And it gets worse, some negative publicity in Italian media, from The Conversation a report written by employment researcher at Melbourne University:

    ‘Australian dream a nightmare for many labour hire employees . With another fruit picking season in Australia have come the usual reports of “dodgy” labour hire contractors operating in farms around the country.

    Italian satirical news program Striscia recently picked up the issue of farm workers, presenting a video titled “The Australian dream”. The video documents the experience of an Italian Working Holiday Visa maker complaining about poor living and working conditions on some Australian farms.’

    http://theconversation.com/australian-dream-a-nightmare-for-many-labour-hire-employees-37479

    Related issue is how of touch Oz commissioners, politicians etc. are with PR and promotion of Oz and the rest of the world (e.g. promoting themselves via 1980s style FIFO), with top down ‘one off’ promotional campaigns and events by ‘marketing professionals’ in state bodies, but ignoring marketing and customer/quality feedback..

    However, the main game has changed when digital/SEO marketing is about people generating their own content, in their own time and viewed everywhere by significant numbers, without any control or input from the ‘marketing management’ in Oz? Once something negative goes viral it can be difficult to wind back……

    Reply

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