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21 November 2012
An Australian Union is seeking to create legally binding agreements that would require employers to advertise jobs to try and find Australian workers and Australian residents before being allowed to recruit international workers to come to Australia on temporary work visas.
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is lobbying to have an 'Australian Jobs' clause inserted into Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs). EMAs were introduced by the Australian federal government in 2011. They are intended to prevent infrastructure projects from being delayed by skills shortages. They allow project managers on infrastructure projects worth AUS$2bn and which employ 1,500 people or more to apply for sufficient 457 temporary work visas to complete a project.
There are currently 14 Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs) under consideration by the Australian government. Negotiations between interested parties; employers, the Australian government and unions, are due to begin within three months. If the EMAs are made, then employers will be able to apply for thousands of Temporary Business (Long Stay) visas, better known as 457 visas. These visas allow their holders to stay in Australia for up to four years. They are entitled to bring family members with them.
The union says that the 'Australian jobs' clause would enable the union to seek redress from a court where a company fails to make efforts to find Australian workers before offering positions to overseas workers. It is already a requirement that companies should take steps to find Australian workers before applying for an EMA. This requirement was negotiated by unions.
Now, the MUA's general secretary in Western Australia, Chris Cain is seeking to reinforce the requirement for employers to try to find Australian workers. He says that employers should sign a memorandum of understanding before the EMA could be granted which would allow the unions to sue the employer in court where the required checks had not been made.
Mr Cain says that the Australian jobs clause would also allow the union and Australian workers to seek redress from Fair Work Australia, which is Australia's independent workplace relations tribunal. Mr Cain told the West Australian newspaper 'What it means is that people in Australia who have qualifications to do a job will get the job over foreign workers.'
The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) says that the union's proposal would not help protect jobs and might create tension in relationships between employers and unions. AMMA's chief executive Steve Knott said employers did not use migrant labour unless they had to because it was an expensive option. A recent AMMA report suggested that applications for 457 visas cost employers between AUS$7,000 and AUS$65,000. Mr Knott said that employers needed the security of EMAs to help reassure financial backers that labour shortages would never interfere with projects.
Mr Knott said that he had seen research which predicted that there would be a shortage of 90,000 skilled workers in Australia by 2015.
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