Resource industry employer group, AMMA, launched a scathing attack on Australian trade unions late yesterday after an article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald claiming “The Abbott government has quietly reopened a visa loophole that will allow employers to hire an unlimited number of foreign workers under a temporary working visa…”
The accusations come the same day a letter was leaked to a jobs in mining facebook page in which construction company, Bechtel, appears to raise the possibility of bringing in up to 150 overseas fitters and welders on 457 visas to work on its Curtis Island LNG projects near Gladstone.
The letter is addressed to AMWU state secretary Rohan Webb and is on Bechtel company letterhead, however the authenticity of the letter has not yet been established.
AMMA executive director, policy, Scott Barklamb, said he was “deeply disappointed in today’s rehashing of cynical trade union scare campaigns about 457 Visas and skilled migration – complete with the same old misinformation and political point scoring.”
“Claims that the government has deliberately reopened a ‘loophole’ in the skilled migration system are completely untrue and reflect nothing more than union scare campaigning,” Barklamb said.
Part of the letter says that after an exhaustive recruitment campaign in Australia and New Zealand, “Bechtel is no longer able to supply adequately qualified and experienced mechanical trade personnel… to fully staff the Curtis Island LNG Projects”.
“As an approved sponsor company for 457 visa holders, Bechtel is permitted to meet its labour shortfalls by recruiting and hiring international craft workers through the 457 process… Recruitment efforts within Australia will nevertheless continue regardless” the letter goes on to say.
Barklamb claims that regulations over 457 visa holders is stricter now than under the previous Labor government.
“For almost four years under the previous Labor government approved business sponsors were not required to nominate a cap on the number of skilled migrants they would need on 457 Visas.
“This was a positive change under Labor to ensure skilled migration could help kickstart our economy.
“During this period, as has always been the case, the 457 Visa program proved to be highly responsive to domestic employment demand. Put simply, when domestic job vacancies go down, so too do the number of 457 Visa applications.
“It was only during the previous government’s cynical and highly regrettable political campaign against skilled migration last year that a numerical cap was reintroduced to the 457 Visa business sponsorship scheme.
“Given the 457 Visa program is driven solely by supply and demand, putting a numerical cap on business sponsorship had little practical effect aside from appeasing the trade union bosses behind Labor’s failed attempt to turn skilled migration into an election issue.”
“The mining industry’s use of 457 Visas has been in steep decline since June 2012 and in the past 12 months has decreased by 48.8%,” he says.
“In the resource industry, sponsoring a 457 Visa holder incurs an average up-front cost of $14,000, with some employers reporting total recruitment costs of up to $60,000. Clearly, this is a last resort to offset skills shortages and not the low-cost option unions would have us believe.
“Market rates must be paid, labour market testing must be adhered to and restrictions apply to approved occupations. In short, if an Australian was available to do the job, they would always be the first employed under such a highly regulated and costly system.
“We discovered last year how calculated misinformation can drag our nation away from sensible discussion about skilled migration. We also saw the risks to our national reputation in sailing a little too close to vilifying those who come to work in this country in a global market for critical skills.
“When discussing any future migration policy changes, AMMA urges an appropriate consideration of the facts before allowing trade unions to regurgitate their myths and mistruths,” Barklamb said.