JANUARY 29, 2015 A new temporary-entry permit proposed by the Department of Immigration to allow overseas workers to stay in Australia for a year without a 457 visa would create "open slather" on the Australian labour market at the same time it faces growing unemployment, unions warn. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has reviewed skilled migration and in December, it quietly released its recommendations to relax entry requirements for short-term foreign workers. Its proposals include extending the six-month short term mobility visa to 12 months.
The change would mean overseas workers would not have to apply for a 457 working visa, which imposes stricter entry requirements including English language tests. Employers are also required to demonstrate they have looked for local workers before giving jobs to employees from overseas, under a 457 visa.
CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor said proposals to abolish the requirement for language and skills tests for temporary overseas workers would worsen unemployment levels in Australia, particularly for young people.
The proposals would mean employers would not be required to demonstrate they had first tried to fill job vacancies with Australian workers before giving them to people from overseas.
"It is absolute madness in the current environment, with unemployment at a 10-year high, to be removing even more opportunities for people to gain access to the workforce," Mr O'Connor said.
"The impact on young people will be particularly harsh. Youth unemployment is at crisis levels, yet the majority of 457 visa approvals are for people under 30." Mr O'Connor said one in five workers on 457 visas already was being paid below-standard wages.
"The 457 visa program needs to have requirements strengthened in the current economic climate, not relaxed," he said.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the proposed relaxation of requirements for temporary-entry visas would undermine Australian wages and conditions.
She said the proposal to extend short term mobility visas to 12 months would lead to further exploitation of foreign workers.
"We find it absolutely extraordinary that the government's panel has made a recommendation to just have open slather on the labour market," she said.
Opposition spokesman for Immigration and Border Protection Richard Marles said the Labor Party was "deeply concerned" about any proposal to remove labour market testing or English language requirements for temporary skilled migrants.
A spokesman for the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Michaelia Cash said the Coalition government fully supported the principle that Australian workers have priority for domestic job opportunities.
"Contrary to union claims, an effectively managed temporary labour migration program will not threaten Australian jobs. Rather, it will secure the future of businesses and grow employment opportunities to enable businesses to employ more Australians," he said.
"An effectively managed skilled migration program is essential in supporting employers in industries and regions experiencing skill shortages. It is essential in restoring growth in the economy. It is essential in lifting our productivity."
Submissions to the skilled migration review will close at the end of this month before the federal government responds.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of employment Jenny Lambert said all stakeholders, including unions, needed to recognise that opportunities for Australians are enhanced by a strong economy that is globally competitive. She said the Department of Immigration proposal referred to highly specialized skills.
"Access to these skills can only benefit the skills development of the Australian workforce as evidence shows that such arrangements allow for the transfer of skills to Australians" Ms Lambert said.
"Part of being globally competitive is recognising that the labour force is increasingly global and strong international companies will be attracted here through effective regulatory environments that allow them to operate seamlessly.
"A balanced and reasonable approach to skilled migration policy, preferably with bipartisan support, is good for Australia, and most importantly good for Australian jobs and the economy. Let this be the starting point for a rational discussion."
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