Government announces compromise regarding foreign workers

by Mark Benson on June 10, 2012

in Jobs in Australia

Government announces compromise regarding foreign workers

The Australian government has today announced a very timely and a very clever compromise with regards to the ongoing debate about the importing of overseas skills sets. This situation came to light only a few days ago when the Australian government gave Gina Rinehart the green light to bring in 1,700 foreign workers to fulfil employment requirements at her new Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia.

Unions welcome climbdown

Originally the government had seemingly given large companies, investing billions of dollars into large-scale operations, the green light to import workers to cover any skills shortages in the domestic workforce. This obviously caused major problems with the unions who are ultimately the backers and the supporters of the Labor Party. For some time it did seem as though the government was prepared to go head-to-head with the unions with regard to this particular issue but today’s announcement has been well received across-the-board.

What are the changes?

The simple matter is that all employment opportunities across Australia, with particular emphasis upon the mining industry, will need to be advertised to the domestic workforce before any overseas workers can be shipped in. Whether or not this will make a major difference in the short to medium term, considering the skills shortages already in place, remains to be seen but it certainly gives the domestic Australian workforce the opportunity to apply for some of these positions which are arising.

The very fact that each and every individual across Australia will ultimately be allowed to apply for these positions, which are predominantly in Western Australia, should give the unemployed a boost and an incentive for the future. It should hopefully also speed up the training process which many believe has been left behind over the last few years with a clamour to bring in skilled overseas workers to fulfil many requirements.

How many employment positions are we talking about?

Western Australia is no doubt the capital of Australia’s mining industry and continues to attract significant investment from many rich individuals. It is believed that in excess of 70,000 extra employment opportunities will arise over the next three years as the mining industry seemingly goes from strength to strength. It is unlikely that the full 70,000 quota will be fulfilled by the domestic Australian workforce but hopefully the introduction of this new website should put in place a link between mining, and indeed non-mining, companies and Australian workforce to give everybody a fair chance.

When you sit back and consider the massive amount of money which has been invested into the Australian mining industry and the potential 70,000 increase in job opportunities over the next three years we are talking about a multibillion dollar industry. Over the last few decades there have been major changes within the Australian economy and while some suggest there is an over dependence upon the mining sector in many ways this was the same argument used in relation to the tourism industry some years ago.

Spreading the risk

One of the major challenges which the government will have over the next few years is in relation to fulfilling domestic job requirements while also giving overseas workers and Australian workers a fair crack of the whip. There is no doubt that job opportunities have been, and continue to be, one of the major attractions for expats looking for a new life in the country but finding a balance between overdependence upon overseas workers and supporting the domestic workforce will not be easy.

The announcement of the website, which will allow Australian workers to apply for jobs before overseas workers can be shipped in, is certainly a step in the right direction and shows that the government is more than willing to be flexible on this issue. The truth is that the authorities needed to find some kind of middle ground between its initial stand and the ongoing concerns of the Australian union movement. It does seem as though some middle ground has been found and hopefully, assuming the website works as expected, opportunities will arise for the domestic Australian workforce.

Transferring skills and experience

Many people have been talking about the transfer of skills and experience from overseas workers to the domestic Australian workforce for many years. It was automatically assumed that those who were specifically shipped in to cover skills gaps and experience gaps in the domestic workforce would in time transfer these skills and experiences to others. However, if the current situation with regards to the mining industry is anything to go by it does seem as though this transfer of specific skills and specific experience is not working as many had hoped.

On the other side of the coin there is no doubt that importing skilled labour has led to a dramatic increase in the government’s tax take specifically from the mining sector. There is no doubt that the mining industry would be nowhere near as advanced if the government had played hardball with regards to the import of specific labour requirements although a balance does need to be found.

Keeping the unions sweet

Historically the Australian Labor Party is backed by an array of Australian unions and is ultimately seen as the party of the people. However, needs must and there have been significant changes in the relationship between the Labor Party and the unions over the last few years. This has led to increased friction in recent times and indeed we have seen a number of high-profile strikes in the mining sector in particular.

On one hand the government needs to keep unions on side to ensure economic productivity is maximised while on the other hand the need to ensure the constant flow of investment into the mining industry continues into the future.


It is interesting to see that the government seems to have backtracked a little on its hardline approach to the import of skilled labour with the introduction of a website specifically targeted at the domestic workforce. Whether this is a token gesture or it will actually create more opportunities for the domestic workforce remains to be seen but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

However, those who believe that the import of skilled labour will cease in the short to medium term will need to think again because the country has in many ways been built upon imported labour.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: