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Migrant workers

We continue to see an overrepresentation of visa holders in matters at the enforcement end of our activities. Migrant workers make up 6%1 of the Australian workforce, however 18% of the workplace disputes we assisted with involved a visa holder. This cohort featured in 49% of the court cases commenced during the year.

Figure 2: Proportion of disputes the FWO helped to resolve by visa holders, 2014–17

Figure 2 shows the proportion of disputes the FWO helped to resolve by visa holders, 2014–17

Government and community concern about the exploitation of migrant workers remains high. This is evident in senate inquiry witness statements, media reporting and the 12% of anonymous reports we received during the year which allege workplace exploitation of visa holders.

Migrant workers can be inhibited from exercising their workplace rights or seeking help from government bodies because of a lack of awareness about their options, language and cultural barriers, and concerns about visa status.

As part of our commitment to tackle worker exploitation, we developed the FWO Multicultural Access and Equity Plan 2016–19. The plan outlines how we are working to ensure multicultural employers and employees are aware of and educated about workplace rights and responsibilities. It also sets out how we are working to remove barriers of access to FWO advice and services for multicultural communities. Activities completed in 2016–17 include:

  • Setting up and promoting an arrangement with the DIBP to support migrant workers to come forward about exploitation. Under the assurance protocol, a breached temporary visa with work rights will not be cancelled where workers request the FWO's assistance2. Facebook posts publicising the assurance protocol to working holiday visa holders and international students were seen over 1.1 million times.
  • Introducing a dedicated ‘visa’ option for callers to the Fair Work Infoline that directs callers to translated website resources and prompts advisers to ensure the caller understands advice given. We also maintained a referral process for community legal centres which enables intermediaries to contact the FWO on behalf of migrant workers.
  • Expanding the in-language content on the FWO website to 30 languages and improving content on popular topics (such as pay, leave and ending employment) for the top 16 language groups. New resources include animated in-language storyboards and videos designed to aid understanding of basic workplace rights and obligations. The storyboards and videos were developed in consultation with migrant workers, community organisations and cultural advisers.
  • Engaging with the Korean community, including Korean business leaders, media and the Consular General, to develop a tailored strategy to educate this community about workplace rights and responsibilities. This follows a significant number of enforcement outcomes involving employers and employees of Korean background. In 2017, targeted Facebook posts and ads on Korean websites and apps were seen over one million times, and contributed to more than 11 200 visits to Korean language content on the FWO website.
  • Continuing to build our relationship with the Chinese business community. We worked together to deliver information on workplace laws as part of our Chinese Engagement Strategy. In 2016, we met with local councils in areas with high Chinese populations across Victoria and NSW. During these meetings we distributed resources for Chinese business operators, demonstrated the FWO website, including our Simplified and Traditional Chinese content, and explored opportunities to increase awareness of workplace laws in their community. We also promoted our Chinese resources via Facebook, Weibo and WeChat (Chinese social media channels) and display advertising on Chinese language websites. Content was seen over 1.7 million times and generated over 12 000 visits to our Chinese language page. Media coverage was also generated through various Chinese language media outlets.
  • Administering the Community Engagement Grants Program, which funds community organisations to deliver services, projects and programs of work that supplement our functions under the Fair Work Act, and which are targeted at assisting vulnerable workers. Services facilitated by the program include:
    • JobWatch—general advice and assistance to the most vulnerable workers in Victoria (Vic.), Tasmania (Tas.) and Queensland (Qld), and legal casework services and community legal education for Victorian workers.
    • Growcom—education on compliance with workplace laws, including training, for Queensland horticultural employers to improve the employment experiences of vulnerable workers in the sector.
    • Redfern Legal Centre—free and independent employment law advice and assistance to international students through the NSW International Student Employment Law Service, and development of the employment section of an education app.
    • Employment Law Centre Western Australia (WA)—specialist employment law legal advice service for vulnerable and disadvantaged workers.
    • Northern Territory (NT) Working Women’s Centre and Working Women’s Centre South Australia (SA)—workplace information, advice and advocacy services for vulnerable female workers as well as outreach and community engagement activities targeted at other vulnerable groups
  • Participating in forums and networks that bring together government bodies and key stakeholders to collaborate on best practice solutions including the:
    • Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery
    • National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery
    • Labour Exploitation Working Group
    • Melbourne Law School’s Migrant Worker Campaign Steering Group
    • Council of International Students Australia National Conference.
  • Assessing whether 457 temporary skilled work visa holders were receiving their nominated salary and/or not performing work in the nominated position in their visa. Five hundred and nineteen entities that employed 741 temporary skilled work visa holders were assessed. One hundred and thirty entities were referred to the DIBP over concerns regarding 160 workers.
  • Completing an inquiry into wages and conditions of those working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program, which found an environment of unreasonable and unlawful requirements imposed on visa holders by unscrupulous businesses. As a result of the inquiry we recommended a number of measures, including:
    • establishing a federal–state inter-agency working group that examines current and future regulations to develop a holistic compliance and enforcement model
    • exploring opportunities to work with a broader range of stakeholders and extend the channels through which information and support is delivered
    • supporting the establishment of an employer register for employers of 417 visa holders partnering with academics and migration experts.
  • Working with the Department of Employment to administer compliance with the Seasonal Worker Programme. In 2016–17, we delivered 53 on-arrival briefings, providing new workers and their employers with information about workplace rights and obligations in Australia. We also finalised a litigation involving one programme employer, and entered into an enforceable undertaking with another to address serious non-compliance. 


  1. This percentage has been derived by dividing the number of selected visa types with working entitlements by total persons employed. DIBP, Temporary entrants and New Zealand citizens in Australia, as at 30 June 2016, Temporary entrants in Australia (stock data) statistics external-icon.png, p. 3, accessed 27 September 2017. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Labour Force Australia, June 2016, cat. no. 6202.0 external-icon.png , Table 1. Labour force status by Sex, Australia - Trend, Seasonally adjusted and Original, accessed 27 September 2017.
  2. We have an agreement with DIBP that a person's temporary visa will not be cancelled if they:
    • had an entitlement to work as part of their visa
    • believe they have been exploited at work
    • have reported their circumstances to us
    • are actively assisting us in an investigation

    • This applies as long as:
    • they commit to abiding by visa conditions in the future
    • there is no other basis for visa cancellation (such as on national security, character, health or fraud grounds).