Foreign workers are not taking jobs from Australians in the booming resources industry, study finds

by Ray Clancy on August 10, 2012

in Jobs in Australia, Money, Business and Finance

Foreign workers are not taking jobs from Australians

Temporary migrant workers play an essential role in Australia’s resource industry by filling highly skilled positions that cannot be met by local supply, according to preliminarily findings from a pilot study.

There is currently a massive debate in Australia about the increase in foreign workers being employed in the resources industry with critics claiming that they are taking jobs away from Australians.But preliminary results from a team of researchers at Edith Cowan School of Management, show that contrary to public perception, 457 visa recipients were not preventing skilled Australians from gaining employment within the resources sector.

The 457 visa is the most commonly used programme for employers to sponsor specialised skilled overseas workers to work in Australia temporarily.

‘This is the first study of its kind in Australia and shows that although the resources industry often seeks to employ Australian workers, some of the skills required are so specialised and only taught in one or two institutions globally, that the skill set required is simply not available,’ said Dr Susanne Bahn, leader of the team which is working with the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA).

She gave the example of helicopter engineers needed to maintain the equipment for oil and gas projects, who require up to six specialised licences that are only taught in the United Kingdom and France.

‘Due to the lack of specialised skilled workers in Australia these companies are using their global workforce and employing them where and when they are needed,’ she said.

The study also found that some skilled Australian workers based in the eastern states are reluctant to relocate to Western Australia. ‘We identified cases where recently retrenched workers declined to relocate to WA and this was due to a range of reasons from social and family commitments to the high cost of living and a lack of infrastructure in some areas,’ she explained.

Improving social services and infrastructure is one way of attracting Australian workers to WA, according to AMMA executive director for industry Minna Knight. ‘These preliminary findings highlight the need for industry and government to have a genuine discussion about worker mobility,’ she said.

‘With more than $500 billion worth of projects in various approval and pre-approval stages in Australia, this research highlights the important role that temporary overseas labour plays in assisting major resource projects get off the ground and deliver future employment and economic benefits to Australians,’ she added.

The ECU team will release a final report of the study, 457 Visa Workers in the WA Resource Industry: The benefits and costs for business, migrant families, and the community, by the end of 2012.

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