417 Visa review called as holiday-makers used as labour

ALLEGATIONS of "unscrupulous operators" using working holiday-maker visas to attract free labour in regional areas have prompted a national review of the 417 visa.

The Fair Work Ombudsman on Monday revealed it has begun a national review of the 417 visa, which many young people use to work on holidays for up to two years.

Oft-used to help attract overseas holiday makers to jobs picking fruit and in hospitality, the visas allow people to holiday in Australia as long as they complete 88 days working in regional areas in the first year.

Ombudsman Natalie James said the review would examine "anomalies" in the system in specific regions where lots of workers take temporary jobs.

Among the issues the review will focus on were collecting government data to investigate businesses "most commonly" helping workers get the second-year extension, and talking directly to employees.

In the past two financial years, the FWO has received about 2000 requests for help from workers on the 417 visas, or one-third of all requests from visa holders.

Those requests show a rising level of underpayment in sectors including hospitality, agriculture and accommodation industries.

The FWO recouped some $67,000 in underpaid entitlements for 77,000 417 visa-holders in 2011-12, rising each year to $345,000 for 309,000 417 visa holders last fiscal year.

Ms James said the review would also go on in parallel to some 51 court actions the FWO has been involved in since July 2009, about 20% of the ombudsman's entire legal activity in the past four years.

"Restaurants account for the highest number of litigations involving overseas workers, with 10 matters placed before the courts, followed by retail (6), fast food (4) and cleaning and maritime (3 each)," she said in a statement.

"The 51 litigations related to alleged underpayment of overseas workers totalling more than $3.8 million and included 10 cases involving 417 visa-holders."

The review began officially on Monday, with the FWO calling on businesses and working holiday-makers worried their employment rights were compromised.