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Australian Fair Work Ombudsman: Statement on 417 visa-holders

18 October, 2016

“A key part of the Inquiry was a survey of more than 4000 overseas workers who had been granted a second-year 417 visa after working in regional Australia. 

Pleasingly, 38 per cent of respondents were positive about their regional work experiences and a majority said they would recommend the 417 visa to others, though fewer would recommend the second year. 

However, the survey and other Inquiry work also indicated serious concerns about the working conditions for backpackers, particularly while undertaking their 88 days of specified paid work. 

The survey findings indicated that a significant majority of recipients (66 per cent) felt that employers take advantage of people on working holiday visas by underpaying them. Most (59 per cent) also agreed that backpackers are unlikely to complain about their working conditions in case their work is not signed off by the employer. 

These fears are reinforced by the experiences of some 417 visa-holders, with 35 per cent of survey respondents stating they were paid less than the minimum wage, 14 per cent revealing they had to pay in advance to get regional work and 6 per cent had to pay an employer to ‘sign off’ on their regional work requirement. 

Deductions from pay were also common and often not agreed in writing as required by the law (only 21 per cent of respondents say written agreement was provided).”

Backpackers to Australia are usually educated and have social capital in their own country. Yet, they still face exploitative conditions, due to the precarious work environment created by the 417 visa programme. This confirms eloquently how much immigration programmes shape employer-worker relationships, especially when precariousness is embedded in the structure of the programme. When the employer can exercise considerable power over the life of the worker – for example, when the unilateral decision of the employer to fire the worker can result in the worker losing their visa or residence permit, thus destroying the whole migration project in which so  much has been invested, financially and emotionally –, migrant workers are placed in a situation in which they have little choice but to accept the conditions thus imposed on them. The construction of such precarious conditions is a key structural feature of most temporary migration schemes around the world today. Congratulations to the Australian Fair Work Ombudsperson: this seems to be an important institution, able to make meaningful inquiries and obtain a measure of redress in favour of migrant workers. This is an institution to emulate elsewhere.

To read the full statement released by the Fair Work Ombudsman on the situation of the 417 visa-holders in Australia, please click here. 

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