Australian mining projects are lining up to take advantage of a new program to bring in foreign workers on 457 visas, but unions say Australians should have priority.
The federal government says a plan to allow up to 1715 skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers to be brought in for a major mining project makes good economic sense, but unions say Australian workers should be the priority.
The booming Australian mining industry is expected to need at least 90,000 construction workers and 65,000 mine and gas operation workers over the next three years.
To ease the skills shortage, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday announced that the nation’s first Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) had been reached with Gina Rinehart’s $9.5 billion Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.
About a dozen resource projects of $2 billion or more are expected to be eligible to use 457 visas under this program, with three projects due to join Roy Hill in using the EMAs in coming months.
Mr. Bowen said that with more than 8000 workers needed during the WA project’s construction, there were not enough people in the local workforce to get the job done.
Under the EMA, Roy Hill will be able to sponsor up to 1715 workers for the three-year construction phase through the 457 visa program if they can’t find Australians to fill the positions.
But the deal will also involve up to 2000 training places being made available for Australians.
In a bid to placate angry unions, Mr. Bowen said a jobs board would be set up to help Australians gain jobs on major projects.
“(The government) expects that foreign workers are only recruited after genuine efforts to first employ Australians,” Mr. Bowen said.
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the move was “reprehensible”.
“We are calling on the prime minister to immediately intervene to ensure before any workers are being brought in under the 457 visa program that there have been appropriate measures in place to ensure that the local market has been tested,” Mr. Oliver told reporters in Canberra.
Australian Workers’ Union national secretary and ALP powerbroker Paul Howes said it was a “massive kick in the guts” to the 130,000 workers who had lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector since 2008.
The ACTU and AWU will push for mandatory advertising of jobs for local workers before foreign labour could be used.
The Roy Hill project is expected to produce 55 million tonnes of iron ore each year for 20 years from late 2014.
Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said EMAs would deliver broad benefits for the economy.
“By alleviating labour market pressures in the resource sector, they also ease these pressures across the country and into non-resource sectors,” Mr. Willox said.
The nation needed to focus first on training new workers but a strong skilled migration program was also required, he said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the coalition was not opposed to EMAs, but wanted to see the detail of the Roy Hill project arrangements.
“The real question is why this government only wants to put in place arrangements that deal with the top end of the resources sector but lets large parts of the resource sector untouched by those types of arrangements,” Mr. Morrison told reporters.
Source: SBS World news
Whilst appreciating the difficulty of meeting large skilled labour needs very quickly, as with most government programs, the test will be in how seriously the conditions of the EMA are monitored by the government.
Whilst the market testing requirements (only for EMAs) and training commitments are admirable and objectively appear as a reasonable qualification to enjoy the benefits under EMAs, the government through DIAC must apply equal rigour and vigour to all market players regardless of size and industry.
It will be important to monitor these billion dollar mining ‘saviours’ for legitimate efforts to offer opportunities to local workers and training commitment as diligently as it does small and medium business – at least as far as meeting the training requirement – seeking to fill the skilled worker void with temporary 457 visa holders
We will see!