CFMEU Says Migrant Laws Not Tough Enough

CFMEU says migrant laws not tough enough

The Age (Melbourne)
August 16, 2007 – 8:19PM

A major union has welcomed the introduction of laws which slap penalties on employers who put illegal migrant workers on the payroll.

But the Construction Forestry Mining and Eenergy Union says the rules have been weakened to the extent that successful prosecutions will be hard to sustain.

The new offences and penalties under the Migration Act 1958 will take effect this Sunday.

CFMEU national secretary John Sutton said his union had for many years campaigned for the changes.

“Until now, employers could employ illegal workers, be raided by the Department of Immigration, see the workers deported and the same employer do it all over again six months later with impunity,” he said in a statement.

Mr Sutton said that in 1999 the departmental Review of Illegal Workers in Australia (RIWA) recommended strong sanctions against employers who employed illegal workers and recommended a mandatory checking system when employers were engaging temporary migrant workers.

“In the intervening years, the CFMEU has lobbied extensively, written submissions, worked with Immigration to expose employers engaging illegal workers and ran media campaigns on the issue.”

He said the final breakthrough came after a meeting with then Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone last year.

“The biggest problem with the new law is that it doesn't follow a strict liability model recommended by the RIWA inquiry but rather adopts the preferred model of the big business lobby that `intent' and `knowledge' must be proved before sanctions apply,” Mr Sutton said.

“This significant hurdle will make it very difficult to sustain prosecutions”.

Mr Sutton said the new laws presented other concerns, such as that first time offending employers would be give a warning and not be prosecuted, and the department did not regard the serious underpayment of workers as falling into the category of exploitation that attracts the highest levels of penalties.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the new laws were clear that if employers did not check their employees' status, then, after a warning for a first offence, they would be subject to penalties.

“If an employer is found to have employed an illegal worker and been warned exactly what precautions they need to take, then they will be prosecuted,” she said.