February 11, 2021
If you’re an overseas worker and have a skill that Australia needs, one way you can work here is to be sponsored by your employer. In theory, it’s a great system to get the skills we need into our country. However, there are some flaws in the system.
The past year has shown us just how precarious working conditions are for migrant workers on temporary sponsorship visas. The way the system is set up takes the power out of the hands of the worker and gives it to the employer.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Here we look at how it works for migrant workers on hospitality sponsorship visas and what you can do to protect yourself and fight for change.
To be sponsored in Australia, in most cases you need to have a job that is on the Australian Government’s skilled Occupation List. For hospitality workers, the primary jobs are hospitality managers, chefs and cooks. There is also the option for employers to bring in workers for temporary activities like seasonal work. The employer needs to prove that they couldn’t find an Australian to do the job and needs to make sure they’re eligible to sponsor.
Hospo Voice member Dylan was in Australia on a working holiday visa when he found a job as a cooking teacher.
“I’m really lucky that I have a specific skill set. I teach cooking and focus on Asian cuisine plus I have a diverse range of experiences… I worked for a few months on a working holiday visa but then I told my employer that I’d have to move onto farm work if I didn’t get sponsorship. We investigated the cost, and he said he’d be willing to sponsor me,” Dylan said.
The employer should pay all sponsorship and visa costs. In an article for employers about sponsorship, the government states:
“You must pay for all costs associated with becoming a sponsor and nominating and sponsoring an applicant. You can’t transfer these costs to the visa holder or their family members.”
Let’s be clear – your employer can’t ask you to pay back any of the visa costs – this is a huge red flag.
If you’re getting sponsored in Australia, you should be on a minimum salary of $53,900 (the government mandates this). Make sure you establish your pay and conditions right from the beginning. Your employer should pay you the right award salary rate for your level of experience, so make sure you check your pay using the Hospo Voice Mobilise App.
Dylan said that one of the common pitfalls is when an employer misclassifies the award they should pay you.
“Make sure you have references and employment records handy. A paper trail of work experience is an asset to ensure you’re being paid the right rate,” he advised.
Even if you’re a temporary worker, you are eligible for super from your employer. Learn more about super in hospitality work.
When things go wrong, hospitality workers on sponsorship visas often feel powerless. Although an employer doesn’t have the authority to cancel your visa, if they decide not to sponsor you anymore, it’s difficult to get new sponsorship.
Once you lose sponsorship, in most cases you have 60 days to find a new employer to sponsor you, be granted a different visa or leave the country.
There are countless stories, like this one of an Indian hospitality worker whose sponsorship was cancelled because her employer wanted her to pay back the costs of the visa.
According to Dylan, it’s an unfair system that is stacked against the employee.
“Ultimately, the employer still has the upper hand in deciding the employee’s performance arbitrarily, which can be used to justify visa termination,” he said.
If you’re working in Australia, you have the same working rights as everyone else. Which means you can join a union (like Hospo Voice) and use it to help bargain with your employer and fight for change.
Dylan said there’s a perception that migrant workers will be less likely to speak up but there have been plenty of instances where people on visas have spoken out and achieved change.
“It’s a hindrance to see migrant workers and people on a temporary visas like myself as these docile people who need help. It’s a matter of reaching out and organising within these spaces.”
Want to get involved in improving conditions for people on hospitality sponsorship visas? Join Hospo Voice and become one of the workers fighting to improve our industry.
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