Taskforce Cadena

Taskforce Cadena (TF Cadena) is a joint agency initiative between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (the Department) led by its operational arm the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).

The Australian Government established Taskforce Cadena in June 2015 to target and disrupt the criminals organising visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers.

Taskforce Cadena works in close collaboration with other government agencies such as:

  • Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission
  • Australian Federal Police
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission
  • Australian Taxation Office
  • Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre
  • state and territory police.

TF Cadena-related operations have occurred across Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, targeting high-risk industries including agriculture, hospitality, entertainment, poultry, security and beauty services.

The exploitation of foreign workers can have a lasting negative impact on Australian communities and individuals, including:

  • underpayment and substandard treatment of vulnerable visa holders in workplaces
  • closure of small to medium businesses due to unfair competitive advantage gained by operators not following the law
  • reputational damage for rural and metropolitan industry sectors affected by these operators
  • loss of government revenue including loss of taxes
  • reputational damage to Australia’s international standing.

Signs to look out for that might indicate a company is participating in the exploitation of foreign workers include:

  • the company is able to seriously undercut competitors
  • workers are underpaid or paid irregularly
  • workers seem to be living in substandard conditions
  • workers seem afraid or anxious
  • company owners or directors enjoy an extravagant lifestyle that doesn’t appear to match their income.

Information for employers

TF Cadena encourages businesses to do the right thing and will deal firmly with those who choose not to meet their obligations.
Employers have a responsibility to ensure their workers are legally allowed to work in Australia. Employers cannot always rely on contractors and labour hire companies to check that all foreign workers who are being supplied or referred to them are allowed to work.

ABF compliance officers will check to ensure businesses have taken reasonable steps at reasonable times to determine if their employee/s were allowed to work.  If an employer can show evidence of this action they can be exempt from penalties. These actions can include:

  • evidence that they have used VEVO to check employee/s visa details and permissions
  • evidence of contractual clauses or an exchange of letters specifying that if the supply of labour includes foreign workers, they must have the required permission to work.  

Employers can visit the Department’s Employing Legal Workers web page for examples of contractual clauses and exchange of letters to use when engaging the services of a referral agent, labour supply company, contractor or subcontractor.

What are the penalties for employers engaging illegal workers?

The ABF can implement employer sanctions under the Migration Act, these include:

  • administrative warnings
  • administrative infringement notices, which carry fines for individuals up to $3,240 and up to $16,200 for bodies corporate per illegal worker
  • civil penalties, which carry fines for individuals up to $16,200 and up to $81,000 for bodies corporate per illegal worker
  • criminal offences, which carry fines for individuals up to $21,600 and/or two years imprisonment and up to $108,000 for bodies corporate per illegal worker
  • aggravated criminal offences which carry fines of up to $54,000 and/or five years imprisonment for individuals and $270,000 for bodies corporate per illegal worker.

In cases of organised visa fraud, the ABF might pursue offences carrying penalties up to 10 years imprisonment and/or fines of up to $180,000 for individuals and $900,000 for bodies corporate.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that all their workers, whether domestic or foreign are receiving their minimum entitlements in the workplace, including minimum pay and conditions. These are set out in the Fair Work Act 2009 and are not negotiable.

While the majority of employers do the right thing and treat their workers lawfully, there are those who are knowingly or recklessly compromising the workplace rights of foreign workers.

Employers can visit the FWO website for information about minimum workplace entitlements and obligations.

Information for employees

Foreign workers should be cautious of employers and labour hire contractors who:

  • offer a job that requires an upfront payment or back payment of pay
  • promise permanent residence in Australia
  • refuse to provide minimum workplace pay and conditions
  • threaten to cancel a visa or take travel documents
  • force workers to perform duties that they aren’t comfortable with.

Employees can visit the FWO website for information about minimum pay and conditions and employer workplace obligations.

Who to contact

Anyone who is aware of an individual, business or employer who might be facilitating visa fraud or illegal work is urged to contact Border Watch Allegations and Referrals on 1800 009 623 or report them immediately to the Department using the Border Watch - report something suspicious.

The exploitation of foreign workers by an individual, business or employer can be reported to the FWO through the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 or through their anonymous reporting service.

Phoenix Taskforce

The Phoenix Taskforce is a whole-of-government initiative led by the Australian Taxation Office. Illegal activity has become an issue in the labour hire industry where many companies fail to meet their financial and legal obligations. Behaviours exhibited by operators include:

  • unsafe work practices through excessive working hours, poor training and safety processes
  • allowing or referring foreign workers who do not hold a visa or who are working in breach of their visa conditions
  • human rights abuses against employees including threats, violence, exploitation and abuse
  • exploitation of staff through underpayment of entitlements such as wages, superannuation and workers’ insurance premiums
  • non-payment of payroll taxes, income taxes, GST and non-remission of PAYG withheld from wages
  • criminal activities including human trafficking, money laundering and fraudulent GST claims.

For more information, visit the Phoenix Taskforce website.