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Professor Fels to head new taskforce

Professor Allans Fels, the former 7-Eleven’s Fels Wage Fairness Panel, will lead a new Migrant Workers Taskforce, set up to advise Federal Government on how to protect overseas workers from exploitation.

Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, said on Tuesday the taskforce will bolster the government’s efforts to crack down on employers seeking to take advantage of migrant workers and deliver better protections for all workers.

“A number of recent high-profile cases where vulnerable migrant workers have been underpaid and exploited at work have exposed unacceptable gaps in the system,” Minister Cash said.

“While the government acknowledges that the majority of employers do the right thing by their employees, we will not tolerate exploitation in Australian workplaces.”

Taskforce to monitor 7-Eleven

The taskforce will also monitor the actions of 7-Eleven. A joint investigation by Fairfax Media and ABC’s Four Corners program last September first uncovered widespread underpayment throughout the convenience chain.

Following the investigation, 7-Eleven appointed Professor Fels to head the Fels Wage Fairness Panel, alongside panel member, Dr David Cousin, to investigate wage fraud claims and determine compensation for underpaid workers.

In May this year 7-Eleven announced  its plans to axe the Fels Panel and establish its own internal team, with Professor Fels stating at the time he feared “lawless behaviour” would return to the convenience chain following the panel’s closure.

Along with Professor Fels, the new taskforce has also appointed Dr Cousins as deputy chair for an 18-month term. The taskforce will meet four times a year, with the first meeting to be held on October 21.

“Professor Fels’ experience in this area will be a valuable asset to the taskforce, which is tasked with developing strategies across government to stamp out exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers,” Minister Cash said.

“We know that overseas workers are potentially more susceptible to exploitive practices, which is why we must introduce stronger measures to maintain the integrity of their working experience in Australia.”

Last month 7-Eleven said it had processed 227 claims under its new internal program, with more than $24 million in wage repayments approved to date.

Migrant Worker Taskforce measures

Measures of the Migrant Worker Taskforce include:

  • Increase penalties that apply to employers who underpay workers and who fail to keep proper employment records. A new higher penalty category of ‘serious contraventions’ will be introduced, and will apply to any employer that has intentionally ripped off workers, regardless of the employer’s size.
  • Introduce new provisions that capture franchisors who fail to deal with exploitation by their franchisees.
  • $20 million funding increase for the capabilities and workforce of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
  • Strengthen the powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman so that it can more effectively deal with employers who intentionally exploit workers by compelling them to produce information and answer questions.

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