Business Warns Labour On Visa Demands

Business warns Labor on visa demands

Ewin Hannan
The Australian
January 28, 2008

BUSINESS has warned the Rudd Government that the temporary skilled migration program will be jeopardised if Labor agrees to union demands to impose new requirements on foreign workers entering Australia.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans is preparing changes to the temporary skilled migration program aimed at addressing concerns about the lack of transparency over the awarding of the 457 visas.

Union leaders in the manufacturing and construction industry sectors yesterday called on the Government to ensure employer attempts to bring in foreign workers were subject to public scrutiny before the applications were approved.

Unions want to inspect individual applications before they are approved, and have urged the Labor Government to establish a public register of companies sponsoring skilled migrants.

Employers warned yesterday that companies seeking to bring in skilled labour were already bound by tough conditions.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry acting chief executive Peter Anderson said companies in some instances were facing delays of six months in having applications approved.

“Industry is prepared to discuss the scheme with the Government but there should be no artificial constraints put in place to stop industry being able to use the 457 visa scheme,” Mr Anderson said.

“Something which would require the stakeholders to debate each particular decision by the Immigration Department would just bring the scheme to a halt.”

The stoush came as Kevin Rudd ruled out using Pacific Islanders as guest workers to help ease labour shortages, rejecting a direct plea from Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua.

Government sources have suggested the Government could consider a New Zealand-style guest worker scheme in the future, but only after it rewrites the industrial relations laws to guarantee the scheme could not undermine local jobs.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union has called on the Government to open up the visa approval process to allow unions and employers to scrutinise applications to sponsor foreign workers.

John Sutton, the national secretary of the union's construction division, denied unions were seeking a right to veto sponsorship applications, but said there was an urgent need for improved transparency.

He said that employers wanting to have a sponsorship approved, on making their request, would have to provide “knowledge of that request to the stakeholder in that particular industry”.

“There should be a period of time for stakeholders to make submissions as to whether they have any views about the request, and their views should be regarded by the Government,” Mr Sutton said.

He said Labor should also set up a public register of approved applicants to allow scrutiny of employers granted sponsorships.

Figures obtained by The Australian show the number of 457 visas jumped by 80 per cent over two years, rising from 48,590 in July 2005 to 87,310 in July last year. In the six months to the end of last December, the number of 457 visas rose again, with 49,700 approved. The number of 457 visa holders currently working in Australia stands at 121,030.

Mr Sutton, who wants the Government to hold a judicial inquiry into the operation of the visa scheme, said Labor should introduce legislation imposing increased penalties on employers found to be abusing foreign workers, and oblige companies to provide visa holders with compulsory medical insurance.

Dave Oliver, national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, backed the “comprehensive screening” of employers seeking to use the 457 visas.

“We need a system in place that can ensure that the applications are genuine, that employers have made certain attempts to try and source labour domestically,” Mr Oliver said.

“What we have found over the years is that it's just been a rubber-stamp process. Employers need to demonstrate there are real shortages.”

A spokesman for Senator Evans said the Government was consulting employers, unions and other stakeholders before introducing changes.

“The minister is interested in any measures that will improve the transparency and accountability of the temporary skilled migration program and restore integrity and public confidence in the scheme,” he said.