SETTLEMENT GUIDE

Migrant workers' workplace rights in Australia

Source: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Migrant workers in Australia have the same rights as Australians when it comes to wages, conditions and safety. And there are easy ways to report if those rights are not respected.

Migrant workers, whether they are citizens or visa holders, have the same workplace rights as any other Australian.

The national minimum wage is $19.84 per hour. It can be more if you’re a casual employee or if you qualify for a modern award.


Key points

  • All workers in Australia, including temporary visa holders, have the same workplace rights.
  • Fair Work Ombudsman's Pay and Conditions calculators can help you understand your entitlements.
  • Visa holders should check their visa conditions before commencing work in Australia.

Know your pay and entitlements

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides information and advice about workplace rules in Australia. Mark Lee, the director of media at the FWO, recommends checking the pay and conditions calculator on the Fair Work website to make sure you’re paid what you’re entitled to.

"When you have a look at that calculator, you can answer a few questions about the job that you're doing and it will give you the rate of pay at which you're entitled to be paid."

If you’re in Australia on a visa, he says it’s your responsibility to learn about your visa conditions before you start working.

"We have a number of different visas and our visas are governed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. If you're on a Student Visa, for example, your work entitlements might be different to if you're on a Working Holiday Visa," he says.

It’s especially important that you know what you’re allowed to do and entitled to because being new to Australia makes you more vulnerable to exploitation.

Help for temporary visa holders reporting exploitation

One in five complaints lodged at the Fair Work Ombudsman comes from people on visas. They also represent half of the cases going to court. Mr Lee says newly arrived visa holders are more vulnerable to exploitation due to a number of factors, including a lack of English skills, a lack of understanding of workplace laws.

"But most often, they're worried about what will happen to their visa status if they approach us for help. So we would strongly encourage people to have a look at our website and have a look at the protection that we can offer."

You need to know that an employer can’t cancel your visa, and that you won’t lose your visa for reporting exploitation.

He says the Fair Work Ombudsman has a protocol in place under which the Department of Immigration will not cancel a visa if someone believes they have been exploited and they report it to the FWO.

Mark Lee says the Fair Work Ombudsman offers information and tools in 30 languages.

"We also have an anonymous tip-off form online so if you're concerned about revealing your identity, you can keep that private and you can use our anonymous tip-off tool and that's available in 16 languages other than English."

Those wanting to speak to an adviser can call 13 13 94.  Free translation service is available on the phone.

The right to safe working conditions

Workers in Australia are also entitled to a safe workplace. The CFMEU's construction division National Secretary Dave Noonan says all workers including those on temporary visas should speak up if they don’t feel safe.         

The worst that can happen is that you do work and it's unsafe and you get hurt or get killed at work. There's no worst outcome for families than that.

Mr Noonan says some employers may put temporary visa holders in unsafe work conditions knowing that they are less likely to complain. 

"But the strict legal position is the safety laws apply to everybody equally and that's what workers should demand, doesn't matter where they come from in the world," he says. 

If the work you are being asked to do feels unsafe, you have the right to refuse it. 

"They can get assistance from the government regulator in each state. At the end of the day the union is there to defend workers," says Mr Noonan. 

He also says that temporary workers often don't report exploitation, bullying or unsafe practices at work for fear of being sent back to their homeland.

"The employer can't just send you back home. If you have an issue around occupational health and safety or underpayment of wages, you are entitled to get advice from your employer or from the government regulator and if the employer tries to send people home for making those enquiries, that's unlawful."

Find out who is the safe work regulator in your state.

As with the Fair Work Ombudsman, you can access an interpreter through TIS National to speak to them.

Useful links:

Fair Work Ombudsman in 31 languages

Pay Calculator

Report a workplace concern anonymously

Information for visa holders and migrants

Safe Work Australia

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