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Companies involved in hiring illegal foreign workers could have their offices searched and face fines of up to $49,500 under new Federal Government draft legislation.
Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has recently released proposed new laws to target employers who are involved in the hiring of illegal workers.
The proposed legislation introduces a new civil penalties regime, with maximum fines of $9900 for individuals and $49,500 for corporate entities.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) says the decision to introduce non-fault civil penalties reflects the Government's determination to “address the problem of illegal work hire practices, without creating additional obligations on business.”
“This legislation will provide a more effective system of penalties to stop employers wilfully doing the wrong thing, with graduated tiers of sanctions – infringement notices, non-fault civil penalties and criminal sanctions,” Mr Bowen said.
“The Bill also extends liability to certain third parties in order to address sham contracting arrangements often established to circumvent the law, and includes statutory defences to protect those who seek to do the right thing by verifying the work entitlements of non-citizens whom they allow or refer to work.”
The draft legislation includes new “evidence gathering powers” that would enable DIAC to force an employer to produce documents of employees who are suspected to not comply with visa requirements, or obtain a search warrant.
The new civil penalties would mean companies could be fined even if they did not know that their foreign employee was not entitled to work in Australia.
However, statutory defences will enable employers to “establish that reasonable steps were taken to either verify the migration or visa conditions of their employees”, which involves, in some instances checking the DIAC’s online verification system – VEVO (Visa Entitlement Verification Online) – to assess a person’s visa entitlements. This service can be accessed here: http://www.immi.gov.au/managing-australias-borders/compliance/info-employers/evo-orgs.htm
The reforms also expand the offences to cover non-standard work arrangements with the intention to ensure "sham contracting, informal labour hire and use of illegal workers by various entities within a conglomerate” can also be pursued.
Liability is also extended to individuals, bodies corporate, partners in a partnership, members of an unincorporated association and, in some cases, executive officers of a body corporate.
Currently the Federal Government is seeking feedback on the draft legislation before it is introduced into parliament by the end of 2012.
AWX director Cameron Dart said the liability that came with exploiting a workforce was not worth it.
“Not only is the employer putting their reputation at stake, they are also exposing the company to financial risk,” he said.
“The risk that comes with breaching visa requirements is real. We’ve seen dozens of cases and there are no winners. It’s important for employers to get their policies and procedures right.”
“Stay on top of any changes in legislation – it will benefit you and your company in the long run,” he said.