Backpackers’ visas 'a front for slave labour'

The ACTU says urgent action is needed over exploited temporary workers.

Four Corners’ exposure of the massive exploitation of workers on 417 visas — the backpackers’ visa — by farms and factories has triggered inquiries and legal minefields for supermarkets giants such as Coles, Woolworths and Aldi.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says the investigation, which aired on May 5, backed its belief that temporary visas were “a front for slave labour” and “facilitates the gross exploitation of migrant workers”.

Footage shot with hidden cameras by Four Corners showed young workers in bonded labour working in extreme conditions while their wages were heavily skimmed by labour hire contractors.

The ACTU said: “Urgent action must be taken by the Federal Government to clamp down and regulate the entire temporary visa and labour hire system and remove rogue operators.

“The Senate Inquiry into temporary work visas called for by Australian Unions, is essential and must be given the full backing, support and resources of the Federal Government to comprehensively investigate these appalling matters.”

The federal Coalition voted against a motion in March to hold a Senate Inquiry into the exploitation of workers on temporary stay visas, in particular the 457 skilled visa class. At the time, assistant minister for immigration Michaelia Cash called the motion “politically motivated”, due to its joint support by Labor and the Greens.

After Four Corners aired, Cash said the program’s allegations were “concerning”.

“We have a responsibility to ensure we are doing all we can to address the instances where workers’ rights are being compromised,” she said. Cash said the federal government would require payslips from travellers wanting to extend their stay as a way to mitigate the exploitation.

But ACTU President Ged Kearney said the government’s responses to the systematic and unscrupulous abuse of the temporary working visa system was woefully short.

“The Abbott Government’s tinkering at the edges won’t fix this broken system,” she said.

“It is unbelievable that the Abbott Government is seeking to expand and further deregulate the temporary visa system despite allegations of exploitation having been aired for some time.”

Businesses have been on the defensive in the wake of the allegations. Baiada Poultry said it was “surprised” that processing factories in Adelaide and Sydney were featured on the program. The company said it would launch an investigation.

Workers at Baiada’s processing plant in Laverton, Victoria, had to fight the company in 2011 to put a stop to its attempts to replace permanent employees with cash-in-hand, $10-an-hour workers.

Workers at the plant also alleged that labour hire workers were among those being put in the workplace on below-minimum wages.

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