The author is executive director of workplace relations policy and education for the Fair Work Ombudsman. Here he describes the Ombudsman's role in promoting compliance with workplace laws in settings where temporary migrant workers are employed.
This paper describes the Fair Work Ombudsman's experience in the enforcement of labour standards for foreign workers and some of the inherent challenges attached to this activity. The vast majority of foreign workers who are a party to one of our investigations are lawful non-Australian citizens who hold a valid visa to work in Australia. Most of them are in Australia on subclass 457 visas.
The Fair Work Ombudsman also investigates the workplace conditions of foreign workers in illegal or unlawful working arrangements. In fact, Fair Work Inspectors have interviewed a number of workers detained at the Villawood detention centre to ensure that they have received their full entitlements under Australian workplace laws. Before pursuing these issues further, it is appropriate to provide some background information about the Fair Work Ombudsman.
INTRODUCTION TO THE FAIR WORK OMBUDSMAN
The Fair Work Act replaced the Workplace Relations Act on 1 July 2009. At this time, the former Workplace Ombudsman and the former Workplace Authority combined to become the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is a Commonwealth independent statutory authority that has three main functions in workplace relations regulation--these are to provide education, advice and compliance services to employees, employers and their representatives across Australia.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is responsible for ensuring that those in the regulated community both comply with their workplace obligations and are afforded their workplace rights. This includes enforcing rights and obligations relating to industrial action, freedom of association and wages and entitlements derived from industrial instruments and statutes.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has approximately 800 staff located in 26 offices across Australia and approximately 300 of these staff are appointed as Fair Work Inspectors. There are also 200 Fair Work Inspectors working out of 33 state government partner agency offices as part of the referral of state workplace relations powers to the Commonwealth late last year.
We estimate that we are now responsible for providing workplace relations advice, education and compliance services to more than 90 per cent of all employees and workplaces around the country. Those that remain outside of our jurisdiction are in the building industry and those subject to the workplace relations laws of Western Australia.
Since March 2006, the Fair Work Ombudsman and its predecessors have:
* recovered more than $107 million for employees
* investigated approximately 83,000 complaints
* commenced over 250 legal proceedings securing almost $5.5 million in court penalties against parties who have contravened workplace laws
* conducted about 21,000 proactive compliance audits of businesses around the country. (1)
FAIR WORK OMBUDSMAN AND FOREIGN WORKERS
The Fair Work Ombudsman has been active in the area of enforcement...