A building industry group has slammed a new bill introduced into Federal Parliament aimed at cracking down on illegal workers in Australia, saying it will create unnecessary legal risk as well as a huge compliance headache for employers, including those in the building and construction industry.
Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch says that while stopping the use of illegal workers remains important, the Migration Amendment (Reform of Employer Sanctions) Bill is misdirected and unbalanced, and needs to be rewritten to add clarity to employers and reflect the way it is intended to be administered.
“Master Builders supports initiatives to stop the use of illegal workers, but this legislation creates a complex compliance burden on business and for most businesses it is not workable,” Harnisch says.
Introduced into the House of Representatives on Wednesday, the amendment will require all Australian employers to check the work rights of all current and future employees and contractors or risk substantial no-fault fines.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the new bill is part of the federal government’s response to the independent Howells Review, which found that existing criminal sanctions were ‘wholly ineffective’ in deterring illegal work hire practices, and that around 100,000 people were still working without permission throughout the country.
But Harnisch says the new bill will create an excessive compliance burden on the construction industry, which has an ethnically diverse workforce.
“The way the legislation is structured means that employers would be required to sight a passport, birth certificate [and] working eligibility rights through a government computer programme,” Harnisch says. “This includes existing employees, regardless of how long they have been employed.”
Master Builders also argues that while the immigration department has previously indicated its intention to adopt a staged approach toward applying any new sanctions, such an approach is not reflected in the legislation, creating uncertainty as to how the new rules will be managed.
“This bill needs to be substantially rewritten to add clarity for employers and reflect the way it is intended to be administered,” Harnisch says.