In June this year, the Labor government publicly recognised the ‘crisis of exploitation’ afflicting migrant workers in Australia. That recognition is long overdue. Everywhere we look, migrant workers are having to battle against underpayment, exploitation and unsafe conditions at work. The government also recognised that Australia has drifted towards a ‘guest-worker society’ over the past two decades and committed to doing something about it.
But what does that mean? And how do we fix it?
This report is about temporary migrants, their lives and experiences at work. By and on behalf of workers, it makes the case that temporary visa status is directly linked to inequality and exploitation. And it makes the case for immediate, strong and reliable visa protection for all migrant workers, as the necessary first step towards combatting the exploitation of temporary migrants at work.
But temporary migrants are not just numbers on the national balance of payments. The stories featured here are of people in the Australian community; friends, neighbours, co-workers, partners and parents. These stories have been put together by workers to explain what has happened to them because of the way Australian migration laws and regulations currently operate. They also point the way to what Australian migration laws and policies should be.
The migration system needs to be remade from the ground up, with the rights of migrants placed at the centre. That is not a task that can be achieved by ‘further tinkering and incrementalism’ – it will require an overhaul of bonded employment arrangements and the proliferation of temporary visa categories with no connection to permanent residency.