FECCA calls for balanced debate on temporary migrant workers

Melbourne, November 21: The 457 visa scheme in Australia has been blasted by a legal expert, terming the regulations as “farcical” and “too lax”.

Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Adelaide and Rhodes Scholar, Dr Joanna Howe, who has researched 457 visas extensively, said the scheme’s rules fall “woefully short” of international best practice.

She said that the scheme needs radical reform to prevent lost job opportunities for Australians and mistreatment of foreign workers.

“There’s a real disjuncture between the official goal of the 457 visa, which is to meet genuine skill shortages in the Australian labour market, and the way the regulatory framework is set up to address this,” Dr Howe told The New Daily.

Apparently, all it takes is a Facebook post and a job title, for companies to import foreign workers into Australia, she warned.

She said that it could be a single, unpaid advertisement on social media for an unspecified amount of time.

“It is quite ridiculous than an employer just has to find an occupation on that list and then prove they’ve tested the labour market with unpaid advertising on social media.”

The 457 visa granted to foreign workers for four years, is to fill positions which are difficult to fill with Australians. However: “It’s a system that can be easily evaded by unscrupulous employers because the Immigration Department doesn’t have the resources to properly assess whether employers’ conduct of labour market testing is genuine or whether it’s just a tick-the-box exercise,” according to Dr Howe.

Rhodes scholar, Joanna Howe wants independent labour market testing to identify skill shortage for overseas workers
Rhodes scholar, Joanna Howe wants independent labour market testing to identify skill shortage for overseas workers

Dr Howe talking to TND recommended the following reforms:

  • independent labour market testing to identify skill shortages;
  • a shortened list of eligible professions broken down by region;
  • regular updates to the list to account for market fluctuations.


Shorten’s Australia first

This comes following Bill Shorten vowing last week, that Labor would put Australian workers first – announcing a new emphasis on local employment.

The move according to Labor is to protect Australian jobseekers from being replaced by overseas workers brought in by employers under skilled migration visas.

Although, Mr Shorten’s announcement was seen as cashing in on the current climate of public opposition to free trade and the resultant loss of local jobs to off-shore bases; local workers and unions welcomed the move.

With the “worrying rise” in jobs being taken up by foreign workers, while locals are available, Mr Shorten will move to “toughen the rules” to include rigorous advertising and training local youth before any recruitment from overseas.

Labor wants every business applying to use a 457 visa for a temporary skilled migrant to

  • first advertise locally for at least four weeks.
  • do that every four months if looking for new staff, instead of the current 12-month window

Liberal backbencher George Christensen agreed with Labor that the system was being rorted by employers.

He wrote on Facebook that “there is no need for the issuance of any further 457 foreign worker visas in our region.

“I will be writing to the Minister for Immigration, the Minister for Employment, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister today requesting that no further 457 visas be issued… After all, Australian jobs should be for Australian workers.”


Shorten termed hypocritical and opportunistic

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull however called it hypocritical and opportunistic and accused Mr Shorten of shabby politics.

“Having distinguished himself by personally abusing Mr Trump prior to his election as president of the United States, he now says that he wants to heed the lessons of Ohio and Michigan and he wants to stand up for Australian jobs,” he said.

Turnbull government also suggested that 457 visas reached record levels under Mr Shorten’s tenure as employment minister, with 68,481 primary visas granted in 2012-13.

“The highest number of 457 visas were granted when he was the employment minister. It is around a third more 457 visas were granted when he was employment minister than have been granted over the last 12 months,” he said.


List of jobs on 457 scheme set to be cut

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Sunday, indicated that the government was looking to cut the list of more than 650 occupations, which allowed skilled migrant workers into Australia.

According to Mr Dutton all occupations including IT workers, doctors, nurses and carpenters are under review and those that were found to have an adequate supply of local workers, could be removed.

According to the Department of Immigration, cooks were the largest proportion of those applying for a 457 visa, followed by restaurant manager positions.

But other surprise occupations that meet the 457 criteria include primary and secondary school teachers, accountants, lawyers and even journalists, despite high numbers of unemployed Australian graduates in these fields.

Although debate has raged about hairdressers and cooks over the past few years, they still continue to be on the list, including florists, gardeners, fire fighters, driving instructors, and real estate agents.

It is apparent that Australian graduates are struggling to find jobs in many of these occupations.


Calls for balanced debate on 457 visas

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) called for a balanced debate on 457 visa-holders and other temporary migrant workers in Australia.

The peak body representing ethnic communities said that the value of migrants to the country and the importance of safeguarding the welfare of migrant workers had to be recognised.

FECCA Chairperson Joe Caputo said, “These temporary visa holders are already some of the most vulnerable workers in Australia. Governments and communities should do all that they can to reduce the appalling rate of workplace exploitation against these people”.

“The decision to reduce the period that 457 visa-holders can remain in Australia after ceasing to work for their sponsors—from 90 days to 60 days—increases the vulnerability of these workers, and discourages them from leaving workplaces where they experience exploitation and mistreatment.”

FECCA believes that the reliance of 457 visa holders on their employers for the continuance of their visas is a significant vulnerability and means that employers would continue to have significant control over an employee’s presence in Australia.

FECCA is the national body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Nidhi Mehta

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