Australia needs to completely rethink the way overseas worker arrivals and numbers are regulated and just cutting back is not an option, according to a new analysis report.
For too long migration policy has focussed on temporary workers being recruited to fulfil specific areas where jobs shortages are perceived, says the analysis from associate law professor Joanna Howe from the University of Adelaide.
She argues that permanent labour migration is preferable in terms of recognising migrants’ contribution and protecting their workplace rights and the current system needs to be more transparent and efficient.
‘Given the importance of labour migration to Australia’s economic success and social cohesion, it is vital that we get right the regulation of this complex phenomenon,’ she says in the report published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).
Howe believes that the public need to back Government policies regarding visa regulation but currently the system is ‘cloaked in secrecy, complexity and a lack of transparency and accountability’.
Looking at the 457 visa, widely regarded as the mainstay of Australia’s labour migration programme which allows workers to work in the country for up to four years in areas where there are skill shortages, she says the main defect is that it lets employers decide which occupations have shortages.
She explained that as long as an occupation is listed on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL) and a 457 visa holder is paid a higher annual wage than the minimum amount for temporary skilled migrants, an employer is able to access a 457 visa holder.
She also pointed out that the CSOL is not an occupational shortage list and it actually includes over 600 occupations, many of which are not facing shortages.
‘Diehard defenders of the status quo will point to the introduction of employer conducted labour market testing in 2013 as evidence of a requirement that employers need to first advertise jobs locally before hiring a 457 visa holder,’ the report says.
‘However, when one realises that a simple Facebook advertisement suffices to meet the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s (DIBP) very low evidentiary requirement, it becomes clear that employer conducted labour market testing is both weakly enforced and easily evaded,’ it adds.
A number of significant reviews of the 457 visa programme have called for greater limits on employer demand and Howe explains that the ‘simplistic notion’ that employers will only go to the trouble and expense of employing a migrant worker when they want to meet a skill shortage skims over a range of motives an employer may have for employing a migrant worker.
‘These could be a reluctance to invest in training for existing or prospective staff, a desire to move towards a de-unionised workforce or, for a (perhaps small) minority of employers, a belief that it is easier to avoid paying minimum wage rates and conditions for temporary migrant workers,’ she writes.
She suggests that the Australian Government should consider establishing a tripartite, independent commission charged with the compilation of the occupational shortage list for the 457 visa programme, which could use an evidence based approach to identify Australia’s labour market needs in a timely, efficient and transparent manner.