People working in Australia’s offshore resources industry will need to have a suitable visa from next year after a new law was passed to extend the migration zone offshore. Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O’Connor said the amendments to the Migration Act closes a loophole which meant overseas workers on vessels engaged in laying pipeline on the seabed did not require a work visa.
‘These amendments enable all Australian industry and employers to be regulated under Australian law, including those located in the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf. The resources are governed under Australian law. The jobs should be too,’ explained O’Connor. The changes were introduced into Parliament following a recommendation of the Migration Maritime Taskforce, established after the Allseas court case in May 2012.
Connor said the Department of Immigration and Citizenship would now consult widely on the terms of a new visa for offshore resource industry workers from overseas and the new visa would be introduced in 2014. ‘We will seek the views of industry, unions and other stakeholders to ensure this dedicated new visa is flexible enough for industry while also ensuring that the conditions of Australian workers are not compromised,’ O’Connor added.
Laws passed through Federal Parliament will also create more local job opportunities and make it harder for employers to exploit workers from overseas, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the laws would ensure employers had to advertise locally before 457 visas were brought in to fill local positions. ‘These laws meet the Australian community’s expectations that 457 visas should only be used to fill genuine skills shortages. They also serve to protect overseas workers from exploitation as they would be satisfying actual skills shortages instead of being used as a short term stop gap by employers who prefer a vulnerable workforce,’ he pointed out.
‘For business groups to complain that it is too onerous for them to advertise for jobs locally before they hire 457 visas demonstrates how out of touch they are with the rest of the community. Australians who are looking for work should have the opportunity to apply for local jobs,’ he added.
There has been an intense debate in Australia over reform to the 457 visa with the main concern being unscrupulous employers using 457 visas not to fill skills shortages but to pay low wages to foreign workers under poorer working conditions. However, with a general election looming in a couple of months the situation could change if the opposition win as it has said it wants to retain the current 457 visa programme.
‘It has been clear for several years now that we need stronger safeguards to make sure 457s are only used for their intended purpose. The union movement is concerned that 457 visas can be used to recruit workers who are afraid to speak out about under payment or other abuses. Workers on 457 visas must get the same pay and conditions as local workers and regulators must be given the power and resources to crack down on any employer who misuses 457 visas,’ said Oliver.
Oliver said the union movement had a strong record of supporting permanent skilled migration and accepted the need for 457 visas in some areas. ‘However, we have always said that 457 visas should only be available where companies can show they have tried to recruit local workers, and that a real skills shortage exists. They must not be used to drive down wages and conditions,’ he added.