Article – Employers in Northern Australia to get concessions on overseas workers

by 1 September 2014

25 August 2014
Ray Clancy
Australia Forum

Skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers looking for work in North and West Australia could find it easier to be sponsored for a 457 visa under new arrangements to combat serious job shortages.

The federal government is set to make it easier for employers across Northern Australia to import guest workers as local people leave their jobs to work on the massive $34 billion Ichthys gas project, leaving shortages in many areas including retail managers, bus drivers, restaurant supervisors, plant operators and chefs.

The Northern Territory is set to be approved under the first so-called ‘designated area migration agreement’ followed by Western Australia’s Pilbara. The agreements are designed to free up businesses outside the resources industry to hire semi-skilled workers without having to meet the strict language, salary and training requirement of other migration programmes.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) said the Northern Territory agreement would be in place shortly and the Pilbara deal should be in place by the end of the year.

Draft guidelines propose that state governments, local councils and chambers of commerce will be able to sponsor the agreements, nominating the employers who can participate and seek concessions on English-language requirements, skills benchmarks and minimum salaries.

Up to 10,000 people will be employed at the LNG plant site south west of Darwin, where Inpex is mid-way through building an 8.4 million tonne per year plant. According to the state’s chamber of commerce, local people are flocking to the gas project en masse, leaving Darwin’s other businesses desperately short of staff at all levels.

However, trade unions oppose the agreements and have accused the Australian government of handing over their migration powers to employer groups. However, the DIBP said that designated area migration agreements will supplement rather than substitute Australian workers.

‘Once a migration agreement is in place, it will allow a designated area representative to endorse an employer to participate. An employer can sponsor an overseas worker for up to four years. These agreements are tailored to suit the employer’s circumstances, including the number of overseas workers and the occupations to be filled,’ said the DIBP spokesman.

But according to Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks, the proposed agreements will undermine the 457 process because they apply to unskilled labour. ‘This effectively amount to the federal government outsourcing the visa process to the area representatives,’ he said.

‘Designated area migration agreement will simply be a mechanism for employers to avoid what little obligations they have currently under the 457 scheme on labour market testing, wage thresholds and training,’ he added.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions wants the DIBP to provide an analysis that addresses the change in economic and employment circumstances since regional migration agreements were first conceived, and provide evidence, if any, to justify that there is a genuine need for designated area migration agreement in 2014 and beyond.

It wants it made clear that the agreements are not designed to be a low wage, low skill programme. ‘While the guidelines indicate such concessions would be available in limited circumstances only, in our submission they should not be entertained at all and such references should be removed from the guidelines,’ said a spokesman.

‘These sorts of provisions in the draft guidelines only serve to confirm a view that the main purpose of designated area migration agreements is to provide a mechanism for employers to avoid obligations in the standard 457 visa programme,’ he added.

Courtesy of Australia Forum

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