Row breaks out over maritime crew visas in Australia

by Ray Clancy on July 28, 2014

in Australia, Immigration Documentation, Jobs in Australia

A political row has broken out in Australia over maritime crew visas between those who think jobs in the sector should go to Australians and those who back foreigners for the positions.

A political battle has played out in recent days which saw three parties — Labour, the Greens and the Palmer United Party teaming up to stop foreign workers being employed on maritime crew visas.

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Some believe all offshore jobs should go to Australians, while others support the move to back foreign workers

But Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash has used what is being described as ‘an obscure legislative instrument’ to reverse the Senate’s decision.

‘This disgraceful move replaces Australian jobs with positions available only to overseas workers with visa conditions that don’t give them the protections Australian workers are entitled to,’ said Dave Oliver, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

He claimed that maritime crew visas were never intended for use in the offshore resources industry. ‘It’s a loophole being used to exploit workers. It was there to bring in Filipino, Indonesian seafarers not on Australian wages and conditions,’ he said.

‘It means foreign workers can be employed in Australian waters and be paid as little as $1,000 a month. It will allow overseas workers to work for up to three years straight in the oil and gas zone without a visa that has Australian labour law as the legal basis underpinning their wages and conditions,’ he added.

The ACTU believes that the government has put the interests of big business ahead of Australian workers yet again. ‘Not only will this underhanded move by the Government cost jobs, it will cost millions of dollars in taxation revenue. Seafarers and officers in the offshore sector pay millions of dollars in tax each year but maritime crew visa holders are not required to pay any tax in Australia because of the nature of the visa,’ explained Oliver.

‘To force Australian workers into unemployment while at the same time decreasing tax revenues is a ludicrous decision that shows big business is calling the shots for the Abbott government,’ he added.

But Cash said that the Senate vote resulted in a situation where a person who is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident was in breach of their temporary visa conditions if they participated in or supported an offshore resources activity.

‘The oil and gas industry currently has $200 billion of major projects either under construction or in operation. Furthermore, there is potentially a further $200 billion of investment in the pipeline. At the behest of the Maritime Union of Australia, last night Senators knowingly placed thousands of Australian jobs at risk,’ she explained.

She said that for offshore resources activities involving an Australian resources installation, fixed to the Australian sea bed, such as a traditional oil rig, a non-citizen will be required to hold an appropriate work visa, such a subclass 457 visa.

‘A Maritime Crew Visa is only valid for work as the crew of a ship. For other offshore resources activity, it would not come within the migration zone and as such there will be no visa requirement,’ she said.

‘The Legislative Instrument effectively restores the situation that existed prior to 29 June 2014 which was in place for the entire duration of the former Labour governments. Labour Senators capitulated to the ideological demands of the most militant union in Australia in a move that plunged our domestic oil and gas industry into an avoidable state of uncertainty,’ she claimed.

‘The coalition government understands the importance of this industry and the jobs it creates for Australians and therefore we have moved swiftly to rectify the state of uncertainty deliberately created,’ she added.

 

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