WORKERS being transported to farms in Victoria have been investigated by a joint operation between immigration and border protection investigators and Transport Safety Victoria.
The workers were believed to be heading to a farming operation when they were stopped on the South Gippsland Highway near Longford.
One person was found to be an unlawful non-citizen.
The operation has provided investigators with vital intelligence to progress their crackdown on illegal work practices.
Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Michaelia Cash, said this comes on the back of the new taskforce revealed by the government to tackle unscrupulous practices, particularly in the labour-hire industry.
“This government is extremely serious about combating the issue of illegal work, as well as labour-hire contractors who exploit foreign workers,” Ms Cash said.
“There is no place in our community for employers or contractors who mistreat foreign workers or profit from underpaying them and we will actively pursue prosecution and heavy fines for both individuals and companies.
“This is why we are establishing a dedicated taskforce to investigate this sort of unlawful activity. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will work closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman and other enforcement agencies to ensure that visa fraud, work scams and worker conditions and entitlements are swiftly investigated.”
The Minister praised the combined work of officers from Transport Safety Victoria, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Victoria Police and Vic Road, which took part in the operation.
This week, Ms Cash announced the multi-agency taskforce to tackle exploitation of workers in the agriculture sector, targeting fraud committed in the working holiday visa program.
“In the lead up to the establishment of the Australian Border Force (ABF) on 1 July 2015 - with the necessary legislation having passed through the Senate last week - the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio has significantly enhanced its investigative abilities,” a spokesperson for Ms Cash said in a statement this week.
Issues with dodgy farm labour-hire contractors have been championed by Queensland National Party MP Keith Pitt and gained increased prominence after a recent ABC Four Corners program investigated some of the horrific practices.
In the federal budget, Mr Pitt said the government showed it had saved about $550 million over five years from closing unnecessary detention centres.
He said he wanted a small portion of that money to be diverted to a multi-agency taskforce and an effective one-stop-shop hotline for foreign workers and farmers.
Employers found to have employed, referred or contracted an illegal worker can face fines and civil penalties up to $76,500 per illegal worker under Employer Sanctions legislation.
Individuals who knowingly or recklessly use illegal workers face fines of up to $20,400 and/or two years imprisonment (per illegal worker); while companies face fines of up to $102,000 (per illegal worker).
People who suspect illegal workers or labour scams can contact the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s dob-in line on 1800 009 623.