Working conditions of temporary migrant workers in Australia: who’s vulnerable? Iain Campbell Temporary Migrant Work and Social Justice Workshop, Melbourne, 7 April 2010 Defining temporary migrant labour Temporary migrant labour = paid work undertaken by persons who are in a host country under an arrangement that allows temporary but not permanent residence. Is it really temporary? Paid work by persons with limited social, political and industrial rights? How limited? Types of temporary migrant labour in Australia The definition could include some illegal or unauthorised work, eg by those on tourist visas. But this is a relatively minor problem. (Estimate of persons unlawfully in Australia, mainly ‘overstayers’, = 47,800.) Official categories: 1) Working holiday makers 2) Overseas students 3) ‘Temporary business entrants’, esp. Sub- class 457 Business (Long Stay) visa program. Size of the temporary migrant workforce (stock figures, June 2009) 1) Working holiday makers… steady growth to 102,319 persons. 2) Overseas students… spectacular growth in last few years to 386,523 persons. 3) 457 visa workers… small increase from 1996 to 2003-2004, but then a strong increase… primary and secondary visa grants... 142,669 persons. Continued growth even during the global economic downturn? The impact of temporary migrant labour In short, a very large number = 655,000 (excl. New Zealanders) in a workforce of 10.7 million. This increase has significant implications... eg. the increase is driving population growth and clogging up the permanent migration program... Who is vulnerable to poor working conditions? Accounts of poor working conditions experienced by some temporary migrant workers, eg low hourly rates, lack of payment for all working hours, heavy deductions from wages (recruitment costs, accommodation, etc), bullying and poor treatment at work, unsafe workplaces, heightened insecurity, etc. Who’s vulnerable? What’s the extent of the problem? What are the causes of the problem? We have some partial indications, but no firm answers... Some comments to guide research... Defining vulnerable workers (UK research) A vulnerable worker is “someone working in an environment where the risk of being denied employment rights is high and who does not have the capacity or means to protect themselves from that abuse”. Stress on imbalance of power in the employment relationship. Immigrant workers are sometimes seen as especially vulnerable – particularly dependent on individual employers. Vulnerability of temporary migrant workers, I Personal characteristics of workers, eg lack of English, lack of knowledge of employment rights, fear of dismissal if caught complaining... But also structural weakness and heightened dependence on individual employers as a result of migration regulation – lack of access to welfare rights to support change of job, 457 workers have restricted rights to change jobs, all workers seeking permanent residency need employer support, etc. Vulnerability of temporary migrant workers, II As the UK research stresses, it is also crucial to look at the demand side – employers and industries. Characteristics of employers... Weaknesses of labour regulation in Australia leaves holes in protection – patchwork system (NES + other legislative provisions, modern awards, collective agreements) with gaps at the bottom + exemptions for special categories of workers, limited resources for enforcement, and blurred lines of coverage. This defines rich opportunities for employers to use temporary migrant workers in ways that ‘local’ workers cannot be used. Vulnerability of temporary migrant workers, III It is important to look at the intersection of migration regulation and other forms of regulation, especially labour regulation. A broader problem of social justice? Possibility of differences in treatment between temporary migrant workers and local workers... ‘Cheap labour’... Dangers of a displacement of local workers... Dangers of a degradation of distinct labour markets... This suggests that vulnerability can also extend to local workers.
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