In a Pastoral Letter issued for the Feast Day of St Joseph the Worker (1st May), Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, has called for greater vigilance over the working conditions of migrant workers.

In the Letter, Migrant Workers in Australia – Our responsibility as a global citizen, Bishop Saunders says, “At a time when Australia is facing great skills shortages and many communities are struggling to fill job vacancies, it is worth considering the circumstances of migrant workers who come to our nation to help ‘fill the gap’.”

Bishop Saunders said that the increasing use of temporary working visas, like the Business Visa 457, can offer excellent pay and conditions for workers who are highly skilled. However, he said, “the concern is for the more vulnerable who lack clear information about their rights, have little or no access to assistance when problems arise and are isolated from support networks.”

Some reports of exploitation under the 457 visa reveal the need to address weaknesses in Australia’s work visa system. Bishop Saunders said, “These reports raise a number of questions. How will the Australian community balance the desire for economic success with our obligation to treat vulnerable workers with justice? How will we show our gratitude to migrant workers for the vital role they are playing in the Australian economy? Do we also recognise that many are working to support families in extreme poverty?

“Australia can go much further to develop programs that ensure the dignity of migrant workers is protected and that benefits flow both to communities in Australia and the workers’ countries of origin,” Bishop Saunders concluded.