Federal Government Sets Up Cross-Agency Migrant Workers' Taskforce

Thursday 3 November 2016 @ 12.31 p.m. | Legal Research

The Federal Government has announced the establishment of a Migrant Workers Taskforce, to be chaired by Professor Allan Fels.  The Taskforce will seek to provide the Government with expert advice on measures to protect migrant workers, and will run over an eighteen month period.  The cross-agency Taskforce will include members from the Department of Employment, the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force.  The Taskforce will be required to meet no less than four times a year and report to the Minister for Employment.

In a media release announcing the launch of the Taskforce, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, said:

“A number of recent high-profile cases where vulnerable migrant workers have been underpaid and exploited at work have exposed unacceptable gaps in the system… While the Government acknowledges that the majority of employers do the right thing by their employees, we will not tolerate exploitation in Australian workplaces…

The Taskforce will support effective ongoing collaboration between agencies to ensure that efforts to stamp out exploitation take a whole-of-government approach.  Migrant workers make a vital contribution to Australia and we have a responsibility to ensure they continue to see Australia as an attractive place to study, visit and work.  We know that overseas workers are potentially more susceptible to exploitive practices, which is why we must introduce stronger measures to maintain the integrity of their working experience in Australia.”

Ms Cash also announced that the Government plans to introduce further measures to protect migrant workers, including increasing penalties to employers who underpay workers and increasing the funding and powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.


The taskforce is specifically tasked with ‘monitoring progress by 7-Eleven in rectifying its breaches’.  Professor Fels originally headed 7-Eleven’s compensation scheme following well-publicised revelations about the mass underpayment of its employees.  However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he was let go in May “after refusing to agree to new conditions the company wanted to introduce that he believed would make the wage panel “bogus”.”  Mr Fels told the Sydney Morning Herald he would be writing to the company seeking details on the methods being used to assess compensation claims, as well as seeking information on the role of Deloitte, who were hired to help set up and run the scheme.

Terms of Reference

The Taskforce’s terms of reference are to:

  • Identify regulatory and compliance weaknesses that create the conditions that allow exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers;
  • Develop strategies and make improvements to stamp out exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers in the workplace; and
  • Consider ways agencies can better address any areas of systemic and/or widespread exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers, including considering ways in which agencies can better collaborate to avoid such situations arising or to swiftly rectify them.

The Taskforce is also asked to consider “particular industries or groups of vulnerable migrant workers where there are systemic problems with exploitation and underpayment”, as well as “assessing labour hire practices for companies that employ migrant workers”.

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