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7 Feb 2024

Australia: Govt. passes law decriminalising undocumented workers & ensuring workplace protections regardless of migration status


On 7 February 2024, the Australian parliament passed a law decriminalising undocumented workers, confirming that workplace protections apply to all workers regardless of immigration status. Among the reforms, the new law repeals the criminal offence of working in breach of visa conditions of after a visa has expired - a key factor in inhibiting workers from speaking up about abuse for fear of being deported.

The law also introduces new offences for employers, including those who coerce migrants to work in breach of visa conditions. Businesses found to have engaged in migrant worker exploitation will be added to a new "Prohibited Employer List" and banned from hiring new migrant workers for a period of time.

The new law has been called a "victory for migrant workers" by Migrant Justice Institute, a "massive step forward for justice and fairness" by Unions NSW, among other unions and civil society welcoming the changes.

The exploitation of workers in Australia on temporary visas hurts all workers. It exposes the impact of a migration system that had shifted away from permanent migration towards a guest worker approach where employers control workers' passports and paycheques. These changes are important as we cannot have a country where workers fear reporting workplace exploitation because they fear losing their ability to stay in the country. This new law, and the actions outlined in the Government's Migration Strategy released at the end of last year, are critical to ensuring all workers in Australia are treated fairly.
ACTU President Michele O'Neil