While Australia has always welcomed inward migration to fill jobs there has recently been a backlash against the use of temporary skilled workers being brought in from overseas.
Many overseas workers come to Australia to work on a “457 visa” – a temporary skilled worker visa aimed at filling skill gaps in Australian industries.
Unions highlight plight of local workers
Australian trade unions have pointed out while unemployment stands at nearly three quarters of a million, there are more than a million people in Australia on temporary work visas. Meanwhile, labour market testing, which identifies skills gaps in the domestic workforce, has been abandoned in some sectors.
The Australian Federation of Air Pilots and the Australian Maritime Officers Union claim qualified pilots and seafarers are unable to secure work because companies persist in employing 457 visa workers. The Union says plenty of suitably qualified locals are willing and able to perform the jobs.
The AMOU cites the example of the Great Australian Bight oil exploration drilling programme which starts this year. Diamond Offshore’s drilling rig will have a bridge crew of 12, of whom only two will be Australians, with the remaining deck officer positions being filled by Polish and American mariners working on 457 visas.
Up to 350,000 qualified Australians are searching for work in the same occupational groups where employers use the most 457 visa workers, according to the Australian Confederation of Trade Unions.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said: “The government should be strengthening the rules for employers to hire local workers and investing in skills and training.
“Across the country we are seeing employers cutting apprentice numbers and graduate nurse positions as well as their investment in training, then complaining they are unable to find skilled workers as a justification for bringing in workers on 457 visas. Australia’s migration program should not be at the beck and call of big business.”
Calls for current visa laws to be revamped
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, public law and policy experts Dr Joanna Howe and Associate Professor Alexander Reilly from Adelaide Law School identified two problems with the current visa law:
“First, migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation and second, they may be taking jobs that should be available to Australians by performing work in areas where no real skill shortage exists, putting downward pressure on wages and conditions for local workers.”
A Senate enquiry into temporary visas was announced in March 2015. A year later, the inquiry tabled a report entitled “A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders”. This recommended that independent labour market testing be reintroduced in many sectors, that 457 visa workers should be paid the same market rate as Australian workers and that the replacement of local workers by 457 visa workers be specifically prohibited. Approved Business Sponsors must satisfy their Sponsorship obligations. Read more here.
The report prompted the government to take action and a working group is investigating a new approach to vulnerable visa holders. The group consists of government departments and agencies including immigration, employment, the federal police, tax office, and Fair Work Ombudsman.
Visa Solutions Australia can advise you on all migration matters so call us if you’d like to find out more on + 61 8 9328 2664 or 1800 828 008.