The review of the popular 457 visa programme in Australia should seek to tighten regulations without reducing the ability to bring in overseas skills when they are needed, it is claimed.
The 457 visa is usually used by employers to bring in temporary skilled workers from overseas where there are not enough suitably skilled local people. It has become the subject of debate after new labour market testing was brought in by the previous government and then questioned by the present administration.
Now, trade unions are saying that while jobs need to be protected, it must also be recognised that where there is a genuine need, employers should be able to give highly skilled jobs to those with the skills, even if they are from abroad.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called on the review panel to make recommendations that will ensure Australians get increased opportunities to apply for local jobs before employers seek to fill positions with a temporary overseas workforce.
‘Not only must current regulations around the 457 visa programme be upheld, we need to strengthen those laws,’ said ACTU secretary Dave Oliver.
Unions are meeting with the 457 review panel to make the case for workers amid fears that the government will deregulate the troubled visa system.
‘At a time when unemployment is at the highest levels in 10 years and youth unemployment is catastrophically high, and there have been a series of major job losses across the country, we must do all we can to provide opportunities to local workers,’ Oliver explained.
‘It’s unacceptable that local workers with the necessary skills may not even be given the opportunity to apply for a position. Young people and graduates who previously would have been offered an apprenticeship or other entry level opportunity are being shut out of a number of industries,’ he added.
But he also pointed out that any changes should not alienate overseas workers. ‘Where there is a genuine skills shortage we support immigration, especially permanent migration. But we do not support exploitation of foreign workers, of which there are many examples,’ Oliver said.
He pointed out that the current 457 visa system has been plagued by issues, such as abuse of temporary workers who find themselves in a bonded labour type relationship with their employers.
‘There are also shameful allegations of migration agents ripping off desperate workers to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per application. All this while Australian workers are being shut out of the job market,’ he added.
Oliver said there was also deep concern amongst unions that the review was focused on finding ways the 457 visa programme could be deregulated to remove current protections and safeguards, especially labour market testing.
‘The government’s preoccupation with deregulation is very concerning. Vital protections such as labour market testing, English language requirements for temporary 457 workers, the obligation to pay overseas 457 workers market rates, and the minimum salary threshold for 457 workers appear to be up for negotiation,’ he explained.
‘We call for the government to commit to retaining these and other essential elements of the 457 visa programme that operate in the interests of both Australian workers and temporary overseas workers,’ he added.