Unions welcome 457 visa review
Correspondents in Canberra
April 14, 2008
THE skilled migration program needs to be reviewed because it has resulted in workers' deaths, squalid living conditions, stolen wages and rampant abuse, a union says.
The exploitation of migrant workers, salary levels and English language requirements will be examined in a six-month federal review of the temporary skilled migrant program.
The federal government has appointed industrial relations commissioner Barbara Deegan to conduct the review.
The scheme allows foreign skilled workers to obtain jobs in Australia for limited periods in certain industries.
Ms Deegan will head a working party of industry and trade union leaders which is expected to prepare options to improve the program's integrity.
Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union national secretary John Sutton said three workers on 457 visas were killed on the job last year.
“We're seeing the deaths of these workers,” Mr Sutton told ABC Radio.
“We're seeing many instances of workers being badly underpaid, we're seeing instances of workers living 12 to a house in appalling accommodation, we're seeing their pay packets tampered with and money deducted without their permission.”
Mr Sutton said he'd seen “all manner of abuse” of workers entering the country under the program.
“The new commissioner who has been given the task of getting to the bottom of these issues will certainly be very busy,” he said.
Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans said Ms Deegan would consult with overseas workers, union and industry representatives as well as relevant commonwealth, state and territory agencies.
The Australian Industry Group argues the government shouldn't tighten the rules.
Rather, Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout says 457 visa applications should be fast-tracked to help ease the skills crisis.
“At the moment the vast bulk of the increase in labour supply into the economy … is coming from immigration,” Ms Ridout told ABC Radio.
“So it's really very important we continue to have a very strong, very large, very robust immigration program.”
Ms Ridout said the 457 visa “issue” needs to be settled quickly.
Recruitment companies say delays in resolving the government's plans for 457 visas are causing overseas workers to give up on Australia.
Recruitment and Consulting Services Association spokesman Charles Cameron said his group wants the government to speed up its response.
“The federal government's delay … is resulting in overseas workers giving up on Australia and worsening the crisis faced in many skills-short industries such as health, resources and information technology,” Mr Cameron said in a statement.
More than two-thirds of workers hired with 457 visas were professionals and managers who were not vulnerable to exploitation, he said.