Legal

Fair Work to crack down on working holiday visas

Kirsten Robb /

Businesses employing overseas workers on 417 Working Holiday visas are being put on warning by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which is cracking down on wages and conditions for visa-holders.

The 417 temporary visa is issued to young foreigners who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to two years. To be eligible for the visa, workers must undertake 88 days specified work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched a review of these industries, saying it believes the 88-day requirement is being exploited by some unscrupulous operators to attract free labour.

More than 128,000 417 working holiday visas were issued in the first half of the 2013-14 financial year, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

There have been more than 50 legal cases commenced against businesses employing overseas workers since July 2009, with restaurants accounting for the highest number of litigations.

Of these, the watchdog alleges underpayment of overseas workers totalled more than $3.8 million and included 10 cases involving 417 visa-holders.

It says one in three 417 visa-holders have requested help from the Ombudsman in the last five years.

The largest penalty awarded by the was $343,860, in a case involving a Perth cleaning company that deliberately underpaid six cleaners, including five overseas workers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Ireland.

The Ombudsman said it will be cracking down on issues including non-payment of wages, underpayment of wages, employees making payments to employers and third parties in return for documentation supporting their second visa application and exploitation of employees in exchange for accommodation programs.

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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