Australia's 457 visas and other skilled migration programmes play a small but critical role in meeting the resource industry's workforce requirements and should be off limits to politically charged rhetoric and poll driven policy making, it is claimed.
In its submission to the Senate Standing Committee Inquiry, the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) hits out at the continued heated debate on changes to the 457 visa system. Some say it is being abused by employers to bring in cheaper, temporary workers from overseas at the expense of local people but the AMMA does not agree.
The resources industry employer group points out that in March the Joint Standing Committee on Migration recognised the positive role the 457 visa programme plays in maximising Australia's competitiveness and productivity and says that the time has come to accept this and move on. According to AMMA executive director industry, Scott Barklamb, the current misleading depictions of the 457 visa programme 'threaten to tarnish' Australia's reputation as an openly engaged economy ready to do business with the world.
'If Australia aspires to be a middle power in the world and to offer global and regional leadership we simply can't indulge in such misguided politics at home,' he said. He explained that the depiction of skilled migrants as foreigners needing to be 'put at the back of the queue', and that Australians are being 'discriminated against', ignores the reality that current rules require labour to first be sourced from the local workforce.
'It is also incorrect to depict skilled migrants as compromising the wages of domestic workers, given employers must comply with legally required wages under Australian law and pay market rates,' added Barklamb. He pointed out that Australia does not exist in a vacuum. 'We compete in global markets to secure capital, technology, skills and expertise. Employers are concerned about the politically driven context in which changes to the 457 visa programme were announced, without any industry consultation,' he said.
The AMMA has joined other leading industry groups in urging the government to take a cautious approach to changing what is proving to be an economically responsive and socially responsible 457 visa programme. 'The mining industry alone committed over $1.1 billion to training in 2011/2012 and a number of proactive resource industry initiatives seek to bring employment opportunities to even more Australians,' Barklamb said.
'But 457 visa workers account for only 2.6% of the mining industry workforce, and consistently account for less than 1% of the construction workforce. In any scheme, there will always be a small minority that doesn't play by the rules. However the government should focus its efforts on effectively enforcing the existing legal obligations, not adding more unnecessary regulation,' he explained. 'Skilled migration into Australia should not be opportunistically politicised at the expense of regulatory stability and the certainty that employers, investors and working people need,' he added.