The Fair Work Ombudsman has been given extra powers to monitor possible rorts under the 457 visa program.
In the latest measure announced by the federal government as part of its crackdown on the skilled visas, more than 300 FWO inspectors will assist Immigration Department officials in monitoring and enforcing compliance with 457 visa conditions.
At the moment there are only 34 inspectors from the department to police the regime.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said the FWO inspectors would ensure workers are employed in the right jobs and are receiving market salary rates.
“My concern has been all along that we don’t want to see 457 applicants exploited,” O’Connor said.
“We do not want to see local workers unfairly missing out because there were no genuine shortages, and we do not want to see other employers who do the right thing … be adversely affected by those rogue employers who do the wrong thing.”
Tess Hardy, lecturer in the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT, says the extra powers are a positive development in that they encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the FWO and the immigration department.
But Hardy warns proper resourcing is a significant question that has not been resolved.
“The problem is likely to be one of resourcing. As yet, there is limited information on how these additional functions will be funded. Ensuring that the job being performed matches the job title and description in the visa may require a deeper investigation, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive,” she says.
While business groups claim the crackdown on 457 visas is an overreaction, Hardy says previous litigation shows there are problems with some businesses rorting the 457 visa system.
“The bulk of employers are doing the right thing but there are pockets of employers who are abusing the system,” she says.
“There have been a number of prosecutions where 457 visa holders have been brought over to Australia and then engaged in work which is different to that described to them and receive pay which is much lower than the minimum award rates, let alone the market rates. “
The Australian Industry Group has backed appropriate sanctions for the “very small number of employers” that abuses the 457 visa system.
Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said in a statement that no data has been put forward to suggest any significant or systemic rorting of the 457 visas and Ai Group would expect any cases uncovered by the ombudsman to be very much at the margins.
“The government has said there will be no additional compliance burden or red tape and we will be watching the implementation of the increased monitoring closely to ensure this is the case,” he said.
“We remain concerned that the series of announcements around 457 visas, combined with offensive and repeated references by unions to the system being akin to slavery, is unfairly demonising employers and vilifying 457 visa holders.”