Australian unions oppose mass visa application

23 August 2012


An application to grant temporary work visas to 2,062 foreign skilled workers has been submitted to the Australian government. The workers would work in Australian resources projects The application, made by British recruitment firm Cape, is the biggest block application for temporary '457' visas yet made. It became public when a series of letters between Cape Australia, unions and the Australian government were leaked to the Australian Sunday Times newspaper. Australian unions oppose the application calling it a 'slap in the face for Australian workers.'

Temporary Business (Long Stay) Visa Subclass 457 visas, commonly known as 457 visas, are temporary work permits which entitle holders to work and reside in Australia for up to four years. They are granted to workers who have an offer of a job in Australia and should only be granted to workers with skills that cannot be found in the Australian workforce. Cape has applied to import scaffolders, sheet-metal workers, painters and cryogenic laggers from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, the UK and the US. Cape says that this is necessary because of 'acute' labour shortages which are affecting Australian resources projects. Most of the workers would work in the North West Shelf gas field off Western Australia. Others would work on projects for Fortescue Metals, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto in Western Australia and South Australia.

However, Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the construction division of the Construction, Forestry Mining Energy Union said 'This ought to be rejected out of hand.' He said that there was sufficient labour in Australia to fill all the positions.

Chris Bowen, the Australian Immigration Minister, said that no decision had yet been made. 'Just because a company has made an application for a labour agreement does not mean it will be successful.' He added 'our first priority will always be jobs for Australians.'

It is not only the number of 457 visas requested in the Cape application that makes it controversial. It has also emerged that the Cape application is not being made as part of an Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA). EMAs were introduced by the Australian government in 2011 to allow the project managers of massive (AUS$2bn or more) engineering projects to apply for enough 457 visas to ensure that the project can be completed. The 457 visas should only be granted for roles where no Australians can do the job. An EMA also requires the applicant to show how the project will train Australians to work in the resources sector. There is no such commitment in the Cape application.

In May, the Australian government said it would be granting 1,715 temporary business (457) visas in connection with the Roy Hill iron ore mining project in Western Australia. This, the government said, would result in the creation of 8,000 jobs for Australians. 74 labour agreements were approved in Australia in the last financial year.

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