Guest Workers Cut Wages: Vanstone

Guest workers cut wages: Vanstone
Meaghan Shaw
The Age
June 8, 2006

IMMIGRATION Minister Amanda Vanstone has come under fire for admitting that importing foreign workers helped suppress wage claims.

Senator Vanstone defended the controversial foreign guest worker scheme, saying it stopped unions from pushing excessive wage demands.

“(Some parties) are opposed to the recruitment drive because it opens up the industry to other pools of employees, which undermines the unions' ability to exploit high wages amid the skills shortage,” she told the West Australian.

Senator Vanstone's comments followed union anger over plans by WA builder Gerry Hanssen to bring in 170 migrant workers. She said skilled migrants should be paid a fair wage, of not less than the award rate, while keeping inflationary wage demands in check.

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith said Senator Vanstone had “let the cat out of the bag”. “It's nothing to do with skills, it's all about supressing wages,” he said.

ACTU secretary Greg Combet said the purpose of the scheme was to cut wages. “You're going to see a depression in wage levels under the new laws,” he said. “That is the specific objective of the law.”

The ACTU will highlight workers receiving wage cuts under the Federal Government's workplace laws in its new advertisements, which will begin on Sunday.

The commercials will run in the lead-up to the next union national day of action, on June 28, and will be funded by the $20 million war chest being raised by the union movement.

Mr Combet said 1.6 million low-paid workers were facing a “wage freeze” under the new laws after last receiving a pay increase of $17 a week a year ago in the final arbitration by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

He said the low-paid workers, who include cleaners, security guards, aged-care workers, retailers and hospitality employees, had to wait until spring for a possible wage increase to be granted by the new Fair Pay Commission.

“Hard-working low-paid Australians are struggling with rising petrol prices, food costs and interest rates and they deserve a pay rise,” he said.

“If the Howard Government had not abolished the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's role in setting minimum wages, award workers could now be getting around $20 a week extra in their pay packets to help with the cost of living.”

Mr Combet called on Fair Pay Commission chairman Ian Harper to commit to backdating any pay increase to yesterday, but he declined.

Professor Harper said the commission was aware it was a year since the last decision “and we will take this into account when we make our minimum wage decision”.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said any increase would be passed on immediately, unlike up to 12 months later under the old laws, and the union's claims were “completely wrong and totally misleading”.