Fifteen years ago, the UN declared the 18th December to be International Migrants Day, in recognition of the rapidly growing numbers of migrants across the world, and in appreciation of the contributions that migrants bring to their adopted countries.

A staggering 32% of Australians were born overseas, and migrants form 30% of our overall workforce, so such contributions are not insignificant. Australia’s diversity is a frequent source of pride for our country, but we must be careful to celebrate such difference, not exploit it.

Everyone is the same in the eyes of the Fair Work Act

If you employ foreign workers, you must ensure you are complying with Australian workplace laws and regulations, as well as any applicable immigration laws. You should also be aware of whether your employees are covered by a Modern Award, an Enterprise Agreement, or are Award-free.

Foreign workers are entitled to the same rights and entitlements as Australian workers, regardless of whether they are permanent, casual, temporary, or still within their probation period. These entitlements include the National Employment Standards, minimum wage rates, Award or Agreement entitlements, and superannuation. They are also required to pay tax on their earnings, so you should ensure you have received their Tax File Number.

Watch out for discrimination

When dealing with any potential employees, you should be aware of possible discrimination risks, such as on the basis of race or religion. Discrimination in Australia is prohibited under both National and State/Territory Laws, as well as under the General Protections enshrined in the Fair Work Act.

For instance, under the Racial Discrimination Act, which applies to all States and Territories in Australia, it is unlawful to “do any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin”. This applies to all employees, even if they are still within their minimum period of employment, as well as individuals who have applied for employment with you.

What should I do?

Reviewing your policies and rules to ensure they are not discriminatory, including checking your hiring practices, will reduce your risk. Discrimination comes in two forms:

  • Direct discrimination, where you act differently towards a certain group of people (for example, refusing to hire anyone of a particular ethnicity)
  • Indirect discrimination, where you implement a practice or policy that applies to everyone, but it has a worse effect on a certain group of people (for example, having a policy against headwear which would affect some religions or cultures more than others)

Think carefully about each action you take as an employer, to ensure that there are no potential discriminatory effects. You’ll get more out of your employees by encouraging and practicing acceptance of cultural diversity – a divided workforce is an unproductive workforce.

If you would like to talk to one of our advisors about how HR Assured’s complete workplace relations solution can help your business please contact us